Off-season bits: February edition

The groundhog said it would be an early Spring, something easily laughed at by the majority of the country buried under snow at the time. Of course, Spring never actually “comes early”, as according to the vernal equinox, it won’t officially be Spring until March 20. But in the baseball world, thanks in part to the climate of the Sunshine State (and Arizona), Spring always comes a bit earlier.

Major League Baseball is celebrating its sesquicentennial. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first salaried professional baseball team thus seen as the start of what became Major League Baseball. To honor this anniversary, all 30 teams will wear a special patch on their jerseys this entire season. It previously honored the 100th and 125th anniversaries in 1969 and 1994, respectively. Happy birthday, baseball.

And in what has to be the smallest alteration to the roster this season, Yankees’ reliever Zach Britton officially altered his name to Zack Britton. I’m not sure where the fluff up began as his legal name is actually Zackary Grant Britton, which means that Zack would make much more sense as a nickname than Zach. And as someone who’s had a few nicknames, mostly alterations of spellings, getting people to correctly address you and spell your name right is quite the ordeal. I’m still not sure why. So, welcome to the Yankees, Zack.

Speaking of new roster blood, the Yankees signed another reliever to fill David Robertson’s vacant spot after he signed with the Phillies. Adam Ottavino, previously with the Rockies for the last 7 seasons, is set to help provide a further veteran arm in the bullpen and in the clubhouse. Ottavino is joining former Rockies’ teammates like Tulowitzki and LeMahieu in pinstripes this year. Interestingly, Ottavino usually wears #0 on his jersey, so he requested to wear the final single digit available as a Yankee. It will be quite something to see a single digit on a Yankees’ jersey this year.

Yesterday, all pitchers and catchers were to report to camp, and today, they had their first workout session of the season. Manager Aaron Boone held his first press conference of the year yesterday afternoon, discussing many of the roster changes, the substitutes and competitions for spots, and surgeries and injuries this off-season. Gary Sanchez had shoulder surgery in the off-season, but he is recovering well enough to start the season and Spring with no delay.

However, Jacoby Ellsbury is one of those who will be delayed into camp this year. Though position players don’t report until Monday (Feb. 18), his recovery has been delayed by plantar fasciitis after his surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He missed all of last season due to an injury plagued year and was hoping for a triumphant return to what could be the first of his final two years in baseball (or what’s left on his contract with the Yankees).

And Dellin Betances will be a little delayed as his wife Janisa gave birth to their first child, a son they named Dellin Betances Jr. yesterday. They are a little busy being new parents, but the new father will join the team once mother and son have been discharged from the hospital in a few days. A big congratulations to the new family.

Who’s really stealing the show in this final off-season bit is CC Sabathia. Sabathia will be announcing his retirement at a press conference Saturday, calling a close to his long career after this season, his 19th in the major leagues. And thus begins his own farewell tour, which will include a trip to the UK for the much-anticipated series against the Red Sox, but follows his health and personal struggles including knee surgeries, a stint in the heart this off-season, and dealing with his alcoholism.

Add in a storied post-season career and a legacy of community outreach through his PitCChIn Foundation, Sabathia is ready to hang up the cleats in dramatic fashion. This will probably include hitting a major milestone — 3000 career strikeouts, something he will do with just 14 more big strikeouts, which by my best guess could be as early as late April. It will be quite the celebration for the retiring legend, and what a way to go out.

And in honor of what would have been Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday, Sabathia visited the Jackie Robinson School in Brooklyn (P.S. 375) to connect with the kids there and talk about Robinson’s legacy of service and activism. Upon reflecting Robinson’s life and legacy as he saw in the students there, Sabathia said that he just wants “[to] be strong and deal with adversity. Just sitting here and listening to the kids chanting his name — he would be 100 years old today. That legacy is what all players want. That’s something you can’t accomplish on the field. It’s something you have to do off the field, leaving your name for kids and organizations to deal with after the fact.”

But looking forward to this Spring, there are 40 men on the regular roster that are contractually required to be there. And every year, the team extends an invitation to others in the organization to attend camp and see if they can earn a spot or promotion or just recognition. This year, the Yankees invited 23 non-roster players — 12 pitchers, 4 catchers, 3 infielders, and 4 outfielders. (Note: the original article was written prior to 2 additions to the invitee list on Wednesday.)

Welcome to camp: pitchers Rex Brothers, Nestor Cortes Jr., Cale Coshow, Danny Coulombe, Phillip Diehl, Raynel Espinal, Danny Farquhar, David Hale, Drew Hutchinson, Michael King, Brady Lail, and Trevor Stephan; catchers Kellin Deglan, Francisco Diaz, Ryan Lavarnway, and Jorge Saez; infielders Mike Ford, Kyle Holder, and Giovanny Urshela; and outfielders Trey Amburgey, Billy Burns, Estevan Florial, and Matt Lipka.

So if you recognize a few of those names, you’ve been following the Yankees closely. If you are excited to see how those have progressed in the last year, you and I are in the same boat. I think Spring Training is always one of my favorite times of the year because you get a first-hand look at the future of the club, the future of baseball really.

And if that future gives you hope, then it’s all worth it.

Believe me. It’s always worth it.

Go Yankees!

Game 112: NYY vs. CHW — #CCStrong, Andu power, 20 Ks, & 13 innings

Four hours and 26 minutes, 13 innings, it was one of those games. This game only really became a pain due to a single pitch, already in extra innings. And both teams certainly fought hard for this one.

The White Sox just came off an away sweep of the Rays, so their team morale was high going into this series. Last night’s game was more characteristic of how they’ve played all year, but tonight’s was reminiscent of how they played over the weekend. In other words, the White Sox finding themselves came about 4 months too late for them but just in time to push other teams to work harder. And I’m always personally for a challenge and better competition.

CC Sabathia got the start for the middle game of this series in Chicago, throwing 103 pitches into the 6th inning, giving up 4 hits, 3 walks, and just 1 run, while striking out an impressive 12 batters. (Sabathia is certainly racking up his own career statistics this year, currently sitting at 17th on the all-time strike out leaders with his 2,945 just behind legends like John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Bob Gibson, and Pedro Martinez.)

Sabathia’s lone allowed run was in the 3rd. A lead-off walk ended up at 3rd on a 1-out double and then scored a long sacrifice fly. Green came on to close out the 6th once Sabathia reached his limit, and set a nice pattern for the bullpen. Robertson, Betances, and Holder (who really needed a good outing) all threw clean, scoreless innings to keep the home team at that lone run.

The Yankees, however, were held off for much of the game, reduced to just 2 hits and 2 walks through the first 6 innings. Though there were a few that could have been beautiful home runs without a center fielder that insisted on becoming Spider-man to bring them back over the wall. But then Miguel Andujar smacked the first pitch of the 7th inning into the left field seats to tie up the game with his 15th home run this season.

With the game tied, the 10th inning became a reality, and the Yankees found their next big opportunity. Gardner worked a 1-out walk, and with 2 outs, the White Sox changed pitchers to face Stanton. That worked out in the Yankees’ favor as Giancarlo smacked a 2-run home run to break the tie and had many Sox fans heading for the exits.

What do we always say? Don’t leave until the last out… because the bottom of the 10th inning changed the game again.

The Yankees needed a reliable closer to declare victory, so logic dictated Zach Britton. He barely hit the first batter who promptly moved to 2nd and then 3rd on 2 wild pitches. Two outs and down to his last strike, Britton made the mistake of leaving a pitch too high in the zone and it became a huge 2-run home run to tie up the game and reward the faithful Sox fans waiting for that last out.

Not knowing how much longer this game could be, the Yankees turned to an old friend in a new position to make a difference — Sonny Gray, the Yankees newest long-reliever. Gray came through in the best way, throwing through the next 3 innings, keeping the Sox scoreless, and (more importantly) earning the win in tonight’s game.

Of course, to do this, the Yankees found opportunity #3 in the top of the 13th inning. With 1 out and the 2nd pitcher in the inning, Didi Gregorius worked a walk, moved to 2nd on Voit’s single, and then scored from 2nd when Miguel Andujar hit a solid single to put the Yankees back in the lead. Gray’s quick 3 outs in the bottom of the inning solidified the win, ending with the 20th (!) strikeout of the game.

Final score: 4-3 Yankees, in 13 innings

The Yankees announced that they would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Championship team on Saturday, August 18, before the game against the Blue Jays. They also announced that legends from that team would appear like Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, Williams, Martinez, O’Neill, Cone, Wells, and manager Joe Torre. Jeter and Brosius (the 1998 World Series MVP) would be sending in video messages, unable to attend due to their current commitments to their new teams (Marlins and Mariners, respectively).

And if you’ve been wondering about a certain Yankees outfielder who’s been noticeably absent this entire season, the Yankees announced that Jacoby Ellsbury had surgery on his left hip on Monday to repair the torn labrum there. It was something they were hoping to avoid, hoping the body would heal itself without resorting to surgery, but they got to the end of that possibility and made the decision to proceed. It will take roughly 6 months to recover, so he potentially could be back by Spring Training 2019.

Go Yankees!

Game 30: NYY vs. HOU — #SevySharp + Stanton power = a complete shutout

If anyone doesn’t understand why Luis Severino is ace material, clearly they haven’t seen him pitch like he did tonight in Houston. Severino’s Twitter hashtag (at least for me) is #SevySharp because he throws games like this with enough frequency that it warrants attention. He threw 110 pitches in a full 9 shutout innings, giving up 5 hits and a walk, and striking out 10 Houston batters along the way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Astros have a really good rotation, something they used strategically through last year’s postseason for their clear advantage. Their starter tonight is easily one of the best pitchers in the AL, if not baseball entirely, but the Yankee batters really let into him tonight, forcing his pitch count high early on. Plus, the Yankees have never hit a home run off their starter.

Until tonight.

And offensively, the Yankees relied on Giancarlo Stanton for some deep power to push them over into the win column tonight. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Gregorius singled and then scored on Stanton’s big 2-run home run into the right field seats. Then Stanton added to the score with a 1-out solo shot into the left field seats in the 4th.

Stanton’s next at-bat was a strikeout in the 6th, the only time tonight he’d not get on base. Then in the 8th, the Astros decided to open their bullpen. Hicks led-off with a double, and after an out, stole 3rd. After a strikeout, it would be Stanton with an RBI double to score Hicks. After Sanchez walked, the Astros called on a new reliever who did better at keeping the Yankees from adding to their lead through the next 4 outs of the game.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

And if you’re following with math here, that makes Stanton responsible for every single run scored tonight. He actually had the best average tonight — going 3-for-4 with 2 runs scored and those 4 RBIs. That certainly helped his batting average overall this season, which has been hovering in the low .200s, up to .240 by the end of the game. For some comparison, Gregorius (who was just awarded Player of the Month) is batting .330 and Judge is batting .312.

Okay, injury news: Jordan Montgomery will officially be out for 6-8 weeks due to a left elbow flexor strain. That leaves a bit of a hole in the rotation, especially with Cessa still on the DL with his oblique injury and no return set yet. So the Yankees are looking at last night’s long-term reliever to fill the gap, or perhaps he gets a shot at it. Domingo German could really rise to the occasion or at least provide some strong first few innings (he went 4 scoreless last night) and then relying on the bullpen for a strong finish.

To fill this gap, the Yankees re-signed reliever David Hale from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to rejoin the bullpen. I don’t expect this to be the end of this conversation or roster maneuver as they find a system that works in the meantime.

Also, they moved Jacoby Ellsbury to the 60-day DL due to his left hip soreness, which effectively removes him off the 40-man roster. They needed a spot for Clint Frazier, who was officially reinstated from the 7-day concussion DL today and options to AAA Scranton. While much longer than the “7-days”, Frazier’s rehab is complete, and more importantly, his concussions are behind him. And while the Yankees certainly have a pretty good working outfield right now in Gardner, Hicks, Judge, and Stanton. Frazier is now ready to go if needed.

And following the play at the end of the 8th inning, Tyler Austin was in a bit of pain coming off the field, wincing a bit and clutching his lower right back. But after the game, Austin revealed he jammed his hip a bit on the play, and with some rest tonight, he should be ready to play tomorrow. Those little tweaks and pinches sometimes just come with the game, being an aggressive athlete and all. It’s when they don’t go away that’s the issue.

Final game in Houston is tomorrow afternoon (1:10 pm CST), for that special Thursday matinée due to travel schedules. It works out well for both teams, as the Yankees will head back to the Bronx for their next home stand, and the Astros are headed out to Arizona. But the Yankees are also hoping for a good plane ride on a second series win this road trip. Finger crossed.

Go Yankees!

Game 15: MIA vs. NYY — #SevySharp in rout

Detroit was rather a disappointing weekend in an unusual way. After their victory on Friday night, the freezing rain and continuous downpour forced Saturday afternoon’s game to be rescheduled to Sunday for a double-header. But then the weather continued to sour and flood the field at Comerica Park. So, the double-header was then rescheduled for their next overlapping free day — June 4. Saturday’s makeup game will be recognized as the first game, and Sunday’s makeup game (including honoring the 71st anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s rookie season) will be the night game.

Instead, the Yankees headed back home to face off against the visiting Marlins starting tonight for a quick 2-game micro-series. And no, a certain minority owner and new executive was not and will not be present for the series. Not that he’d want to see how his team did in tonight’s game. Those in the Steinbrenner box had no such problems tonight.

Luis Severino was dominant in his start tonight, throwing 86 pitches in his 6 scoreless innings, giving up just 1 hit and 1 walk, striking out 8 Miami batters. Severino ended up with his 3rd win already this season. But his next relievers got into a couple of jams and then proved they were capable of getting out them relatively unscathed.

In the 7th, Adam Warren gave up 2 singles and a walk to load up the bases before getting that third out to escape the inning. Chasen Shreve came on for the 8th and his first batter made it safely to base on a fielding error, before loading up the bases with a single and a walk with 1 out. A force out at 2nd allowed that lead runner to score an unearned run. Another walk loaded the bases again, but Shreve got a fly out to end the threat. And that would be the only run the Marlins would score tonight — an unearned run. Dellin Betances closed out the 9th inning, keeping the Marlins to that lone run.

Meanwhile, (and how do I say this nicely?) the Marlins pitching and defense left much to be desired tonight. In the 1st, the Yankees quickly loaded up the bases with Gardner’s lead-off single and 2 walks to Judge and Stanton. Gary Sanchez’s 1-out single kept the bases loaded but scored Gardner. Then Tyler Austin worked a 2-out walk to walk in Judge. Aaron Judge later hit a big 2-out solo home run in the 2nd to add to the score.

In the 3rd, Gregorius led-off with a walk and moved to 2nd on Sanchez’s single before they both scored on Aaron Hicks’ double. After Andujar walked, the Marlins decided their poor starter had enough and went to their bullpen. A quick double play made them think they made the right decision. But then the Yankees came back strong again in the 4th. With 2 outs, Stanton was hit by a pitch and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run to add more to the Yankees’ growing lead.

Tyler Austin led-off the 5th with a double and then scored on Miguel Andujar’s double. Torreyes’ single and Gardner’s walk loaded up the bases (with no outs), and Judge’s single scored Andujar. After finally getting 2 outs, Sanchez hit a long single to score the speedy Torreyes and Gardner. And in the 7th, Didi Gregorius hit his 2nd homer of the game, a 1-out solo shot into the Yankees’ bullpen to cap off the Yankees’ rout of the Marlins in Bronx Bomber fashion.

It is worth noting that of the 15 total hits and 8 walks, every Yankees starting player tonight made it on base, most more than once and most helping make that 12 run score possible.

Final score: 12-1 Yankees

That home run in the 2nd was Aaron Judge’s 60th career home run. He is the fastest player to ever reach 60 homers, which he did in 197 games. He supplants Mark McGwire who reached 60 homers in 202 games with the Athletics in 1987-1988. He has also hit safely in 17 games, a continuous streak that is worth watching early this season.

Roster moves (warming up the Scranton Shuttle): the Yankees optioned pitcher Luis Cessa back and sent outfielder Shane Robinson outright to AAA Scranton. Jace Peterson was designated for assignment and elected free agency at the end of the waiting period rather than being outrighted back to the minors, and the gamble was worth it because the Yankees re-signed him and added him to the roster prior to tonight’s game.

Injury updates: Greg Bird is recovering well from his ankle surgery, expecting to be back late May or early June. And Jacoby Ellsbury’s oblique injury is healed, and his hip soreness is healing thanks to treatments and cortisone injections. But plantar fasciitis (often in response to overuse of the foot or overstressing the arch) is plaguing him now. Let me just say, that makes basic things like running and walking rather difficult.

Brandon Drury is still dealing with his migraine issues with anti-inflammatories and specialists. Migraine sufferers learn to deal with a number of debilitating symptoms, and Drury’s blurry vision is probably his worst. He even admitted to stepping into the batter’s box in previous seasons with blurry vision due to his migraines, and if you’ve ever done even batting cages, you can imagine that trying to hit a ball traveling 90+ mph with blurry vision and a pounding headache doesn’t exactly help matters.

One more game against the Marlins before an off-day and then a 4-game series against the Blue Jays and a 4-game series against the Twins for this long 10-game (and 1 off-day) home stand. And tonight was a pretty good start.

Go Yankees!

Game 5: TB vs. NYY — Delayed Home Opener, rainy, wind chills, & Didi

The problem with April games is that winter isn’t always ready to give way to the boys of summer. So when it lingers long enough to drop a large amount of snow on the stadium on what should be Opening Day, the grounds crew spent yesterday clearing a layer of the white stuff off the field and resetting it for a postponed game. But it wasn’t exactly a better option, with the City spending most of the day (and tomorrow) soaking wet from the rain.

That meant the first pitch was delayed an additional 15 minutes and the pre-game festivities were modified or scrapped altogether. But no worries, rather reminiscent to the snowy start to the 1996 season, the game played on, and the Yankees powered through, despite some strong attempts by the visiting Rays to do stop them.

Jordan Montgomery got the start, a rather big responsibility for the young starter, but he continues to prove how necessary he is to the rotation. He threw 80 pitches in his 5 innings, allowing only 2 hit, 4 walks, and a run, and striking out just 4 Rays batters. In the 3rd, he gave up a single and a walk before a fielder’s choice put runners in the corners. A throwing error allowed another batter to reach base as the lead runner scored the Rays’ first run. The next batter hit a long fly ball to center where Brett Gardner fired it in to get the runner out at home for a fantastic double play. (We always say, “Don’t run on Gary!” but we should add “Don’t run on Gardy!” too.)

Jonathan Holder came on in relief in the 6th but really struggled his way through. After a quick strikeout, he then gave up a double and a single to put runners on the corners. A single scored one run and another single loaded up the bases. Now in a jam, the Yankees turned to Tommy Kahnle, who got a strikeout before giving up a 2-RBI double. Kahnle’s 7th inning went better setting up the rest of the bullpen — Robertson and Shreve — who blasted through the Rays’ lineup to close out the game.

In the mean time, the Yankees faced the Rays’ starter, who clearly had a less than ideal day thanks to a very particular Yankee, a Yankee who has Rays’ pitchers’ numbers today. Didi Gregorius led-off the 2nd with a double, moved to 2nd on Walker’s 1-out walk, and then scored on Tyler Wade’s 2-out single. Then, in the 3rd, Gardner and Judge each singled, and then Didi Gregorius smacked a big 3-run home run to put the Yankees in the lead.

But with the game tied in the 6th, the Yankees found another opportunity to advance in the bottom of the 7th. Tyler Austin led-off with a double. Brett Gardner hit into a sacrifice bunt, but made it safely all the way to 2nd thanks to a throwing error that also scored Austin. Judge then singled to get on base, and 1-out later, it would be Didi Gregorius to hit his 2nd 3-run home run of the game to put the Yankees back in a commanding lead.

That wasn’t all. With 1 out, Wade and Austin both worked walks, and after a pitching change, Gardner singled to load up the bases. A walk to Aaron Judge scored Wade, before a 2-out single to (who else?) Didi Gregorius scored Austin and Gardner to ensure the Yankee victory.

Not a bad way to start the Yankees’ home season.

Final score: 11-4 Yankees

Injury update: Jacoby Ellsbury’s comeback is now pushed back thanks to a hip injury. Ellsbury was recovering well from his oblique injury incurred during Spring Training, but now, it looks like he’ll be sidelined a bit longer now. We’re likely to see Aaron Hicks about April 10 if he can stay healthy. Fingers and toes crossed, everyone.

And minor league reliever Ben Heller was moved to the 60-day DL (effectively taking him off the 40-man roster) due to a bone spur in his right elbow. This made room for the Yankees to claim outfielder Trayce Thompson off waivers from the Dodgers. If there’s any further setbacks, calling up Thompson is a real possibility.

Happy Home Opener, Yankee Universe!

Go Yankees!

It’s almost time for “Play Ball!”

Okay, so another Spring Training is finally behind us, and there’s less than a day left until the 2018 regular season begins. The Yankees officially ended Spring Training with 18 wins, 13 losses, and 1 tie, with an average of .581 for the Spring. This landed them 4th in all the AL, 5th in the Grapefruit League, and 7th overall.

And oddly, this is a good thing. With a few notable exceptions (like the 2009 Yankees), most eventual World Series winners usually end up middle of the pack in Spring Training. Like last year, the Yankees finished the Spring at the top of the list but ended up falling short to the eventual champion Astros (who finished the Spring 15-15). The previous year’s winners, the Cubs finished with a losing Spring of 11-19 and their series opponents, the Indians, fared better with a finish of 18-12 (still 6th in the AL). In other words, where you finish in the Spring really doesn’t matter, but odds are, middle of the pack might fare better in the end.

But it’s a long season, and we’ve 162 games to go…

The Yankees released a tentative Opening Day lineup for tomorrow’s game, which could be a pretty good idea of where they’re going for the season, setting the tone for those 162 games to come.

  • Brett Gardner, left field
  • Aaron Judge, right field
  • Giancarlo Stanton, designated hitter
  • Gary Sanchez, catcher
  • Aaron Hicks, center field
  • Didi Gregorius, shortstop
  • Brandon Drury, 3rd base
  • Neil Walker, 2nd base
  • Tyler Austin, 1st base
  • Luis Severino, starting pitcher

With the Yankees recalling Tyler Austin, their 25-man roster is now set — starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka; relievers Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Chasen Shreve, and Adam Warren; catchers Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez; infielders Tyler Austin, Brandon Drury, Didi Gregorius, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade, and Neil Walker; and outfielders Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Now, you might notice that there are significant names not on that list due to injuries, and the Yankees had to move them around to make room for active players. Greg Bird‘s ankle surgery on Tuesday went well, removing a spur that broke off the bone. Bird will be out at least 6-8 weeks and was moved to the 10-day disabled list retroactive to March 26 (the standard date coming out of Spring).

Jacoby Ellbsury lingers in Florida to get extended Spring Training, about 40-50 more at-bats after missing most of the Spring due to a strained oblique. The Yankees also placed him on the 10-day DL retroactive to March 26, but he will clearly be back in pinstripes before anyone else.

Clint Frazier, another outfielder, is still dealing with lingering issues from his concussion early in the Spring. But the good news is that he is back doing baseball activities and working back into a momentum that could put him on track to join the AAA Scranton team soon, though no set timetable has been set. The Yankees placed him on the 7-day disabled list retroactive to March 26.

Get healthy, guys, and stay healthy, rest of the guys! We’ve got 162 games to prove the talking heads right for once. If you haven’t heard, the “talking heads” have all proclaimed the Yankees as potential contenders for the postseason. I think the 2017 team surprised them with how far the Yankees (who they dismissed early in the Spring) went — Game 7 of the ALCS vs. Astros. And they’ve only upgraded since then.

But then again, it’s a long season… and Yankee Universe has good reasons to hope.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 17: MIN vs. NYY — Opportunities chilled out just short of success

It was 61° at first pitch and windy, and as the sun set, it just got colder. In other words, while the Northeast may be bracing for its 3rd major storm of the winter, Florida was in the middle of its continued winter. I know that must sound like heaven for some of my readers, but when it was just 80-something a few weeks ago, this week is going to be frigid in the busiest home week at Spring Training this year.

The Yankees hosted the Twins for tonight’s game, calling on Masahiro Tanaka to have a better outing than his last one. And overall, he did. Tanaka threw a pretty solid 4 innings, getting a strong 6 strikeouts. His weakest inning was the 2nd, allowing 3 of his 4 allowed hits and his lone walk. Unfortunately, one of those was a 1-out double and the next one was a 2-run home run to get the Twins on the board early. But outside of that Tanaka set a nice pace for the Yankees’ pitchers tonight.

Dellin Betances came out for 2 quick strikeouts in the 5th, and Chasen Shreve finished off the inning quickly to keep the Twins from adding to their lead. Domingo German came on for a solid 3 innings, adding 3 more strikeouts to the Yankees’ pitching total tonight. German kept the ball rolling and handed things over to Tommy Kahnle for a scoreless 9th. All these pitchers just waiting for the Yankees to do something. Anything really.

Despite some, shall we say “questionable calls”, the Yankees did get many opportunities to change the game in their favor, thanks in part to the strong pitching. The lone successful one was Tyler Austin’s big 2-out solo home run over the center field fence in the 4th to get the Yankees on the board.

There was a really close shot in the 3rd with Torreyes’ big lead-off double but he was tagged out coming home on Wade’s double. (Yes, Wade is back after his wrist injury and looking good again.) Two outs later left Wade stranded on base. And in the 8th, Florial and Robinson worked walks and ended up in scoring position before a dribbling ground out ended the threat. A final hope came in the 9th, putting more runners in scoring position, but the final out was a solid catch in left field to hand the win to the Twins.

In other words, the Yankees were pitching well, but not putting together much hitting-wise.

Final score: 2-1 Twins

Next up: the Yankees host the Tigers tomorrow afternoon. The Yankees host 5 games at home this week, their busiest week at home this Spring. CC Sabathia is scheduled for the start.

One to Watch: I’ve got to give this to Tyler Austin today. Of course, he helped this cause by hitting that 4th inning home run. But Austin has been a constant on the roster this Spring and proved his defensive skills are worth being considered Bird’s first replacement at 1st base. Barring some injury, Austin will probably spend this year with AAA Scranton so he can play every day and sharpen those skills, laying in wait for his next shot at the big leagues. It’s hard not to forget how he made his rookie at-bat in 2016.

Roster moves: before the game, the Yankees designated outfielder Jake Cave for assignment, released infielder Danny Espinosa, and reassigned infielder Kyle Holder to minor league camp. All of this is because the Yankees officially signed veteran infielder Neil Walker. Walker began his career with the Pirates for 7 years, playing with the Mets and Brewers for the last 2 seasons before becoming a free agent.

Walker was just playing in the “Free Agency Camp” that many unsigned players are using to keep their skills sharp and be a running preview for potential scouts. Hey, it worked for Walker. The Yankees are still playing with who will be their starting second and third basemen, so throwing a veteran presence like Walker (who they have been interested in for a while) in the mix creates more options for the team.

Injury updates: Spring Training fixture, guest instructor, Yankees special advisor, and (oh yeah) Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson tripped while out walking today and seriously injured his knee, forcing surgery tomorrow. Jacoby Ellsbury’s oblique injury continues to plague his Spring, and it’s looking like he may not be fully ready for Opening Day. And Clint Frazier is still dealing with lingering concussion effects. He’s following his doctor’s lead, the progress is slow, but he’s now working on some minimal exercises and hoping to ramp them up sooner rather than later. Get healthy, guys!

And finally a happy birthday to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who might look like a quiet strength during a game but serves as a lion in the organization.

Go Yankees!