Spring Game 21: TOR vs. NYY — The Saturday hit parade

For the second afternoon in a row, the Yankees turned the hot, humid weather into a sort of springboard for dominating their visiting opponent in Tampa. Early on, the home team hosted a continued batting practice under the guise of a Spring Training game, with the Blue Jays even getting in on the fun and action today. And fans were just there for the show.

The Yankees kicked things off in the 1st, with Aaron Judge’s big 1-out solo home run, the first home run and hit of a 9 home run and 29 hit day, overall. Then, Bird worked a 2-out walk and scored with Gleyber Torres’ 2-run home run to give the Yankees an early lead.

JA Happ got the start for the Yankees. Despite a good 1st inning, he had a bit of trouble in the 2nd. A lead-off single scored as part of a 2-run home run to get the Blue Jays on the board. Two outs later, a solo home run helped push the Jays into a tie.

So, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 2nd to retake their lead. With 1 out, Wade doubled, and Gio Urshela smacked a 2-run home run to break the tie. Gardner then singled, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s 2-out single. In the 4th, with 1 out and Florial on base with a single, pinch-hitter Jorge Saez hit a solid 2-run home run to keep the runs rolling in.

After Britton and Chapman sailed their way through the 4th and 5th innings, Tommy Kahnle’s 1st pitch in the 6th became a Blue Jays’ solo home run. But he got right back on track and shut them down in 3 quick outs.

The Yankees answered back in the 6th. Estevan Florial led-off with a walk, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Matt Lipka’s single. Lipka moved to 2nd on Wagner’s single and scored on Thairo Estrada’s double. Clint Frazier fought through a good at-bat only to hit a 2-RBI triple. And in the 7th, Urshela led-off with a double, and his pinch-runner later scored on Matt Lipka’s big 2-run home run.

Minor league reliever Phillip Diehl had a great 7th inning but found trouble in the 8th. He loaded up the bases with a double, a single, and a walk, with no outs. A sacrifice fly scored the lead run, and with that out, the Yankees went to Weissert for pitching relief. After a strong strikeout, a strong 2-RBI triple edged the Blue Jays a bit closer to the Yankees’ lead.

Thairo Estrada then led-off the 8th with a ridiculously speedy triple (a double for most people) and scored on Francisco Diaz’s single. Zack Zehner hit a big 2-run home run to cap off the runs this afternoon. The Yankees sent reliever Jonathan Holder in to close out the game with a scoreless 9th.

Final score: 17-7 Yankees

One to Watch: Today, I opted for two honorees. Gio Urshela dominated the first half of the game once again with his contributions at the plate and his outstanding defense, starting at 3rd base. And in the latter half of the game, Matt Lipka’s bat was hot today, going 2-for-2, with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored.

Next up: the Yankees have a split squad day tomorrow afternoon. But in a weird scheduling twist, both games are actually being played away. One squad will travel to visit the Orioles in Sarasota (about an hour south), and the other across the Bay to Clearwater to see the Phillies (about 25 minutes west).

Unfortunately, there is some injury news. In the top of the 8th, outfielder Estevan Florial slammed into the center field fence trying to negotiate between the sun and a fly ball. (The fence won.) He was pinch-hit on his next at-bat and sent to precautionary x-rays, which came back with non-displaced right wrist fracture. In other words, his Spring is done and will probably start back with Advanced-A Tampa as part of his rehab and recovery once he is healed.

And Luis Severino is still dealing with his inflamed shoulder, and due to his slow recovery process this Spring, it looks like he will miss regular season games through April. Aaron Hicks’ back should be healed and ready to go by Opening Day, but he will have no Spring warm-up. So he could take a few sim games or minor league games (or about a week) before rejoining the regular team.

With two key players out, even for a week in Hicks’ case, that could mean a brief promotion for some Yankee players. So as they continue to hone their roster, it will be interesting to see who winds up as part of the 25-men set to play Opening Day.

One player in Yankee Universe that won’t be part of that line-up is Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is technically part of the Yankee farm system and was in camp these last two days, connecting with friends like Judge and working out with his fellow athletes. Unlike last year, Wilson didn’t get any play time in either of these last two big games, watching his teammates haul in big victories from the dugout. Maybe that’s why the scores looked more like the NFL than MLB — blame Wilson.

Go Yankees!

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!

Spring Game 25: NYY vs. DET — Sad and soggy vernal equinox

Well, today is the official first day of Spring, though storms slamming the Northeast again and dropping over a foot in some areas certainly lead some to question that term. And here in Florida, we were slammed with our own Spring storm (that actually temporarily closed the airport) — some super heavy rain, a tornado watch, and strong winds. Some local residents are without power as a result, but the storm is continuing its march way across the state as I write this.

And the game between the Yankees and Tigers in Lakeland didn’t escape the storm, with a big deluge in the 5th inning. Two games closer to the Gulf Coast (in Clearwater and Sarasota) were called early or cancelled all together (respectively). The other games in Florida were played on the Atlantic Coast and escaped this afternoon’s mess. But in central Florida, the game played on.

Brady Lail got the start in today’s game, setting a pattern of less than stellar pitching that most of the Yankees’ pitchers certainly continued through this afternoon. In the 1st, Lail gave up consecutive walks that promptly scored on an RBI single and sacrifice fly to put the Tigers in the lead early. Ben Heller came on to finish the 2nd for Lail and kept them to that scored until the 4th inning where he found his own issues. He gave up a 1-out double that scored on a single, and after a double moved runners to scoring position, the Yankees went back to their bullpen again.

Cody Carroll came on to give up a single that scored both waiting runners to push the Tigers further in the lead. He gave up a 1-out solo home run in the 5th just as the rain really started dropped heavily over the open stadium. But despite giving up a couple of hits, Giovanny Gallegos had a scoreless 6th inning to shift the momentum, and JP Feyereisen continued this new wave with a scoreless 7th.

But then the 8th caused its own troubles again. Matt Frawley gave up a lead-off walk that scored on a long triple, and that runner then scored on a 1-out single. James Reeves came on in relief and got out of the inning with 2 strong strikeouts. In one of those weird statistical outcomes, the Yankee pitchers gave up 14 hits but also got 12 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the Yankees actually got on the board first behind Tyler Wade’s lead-off triple in the 1st inning. Wade then scored easily on Neil Walker’s single. But the Yankees were held off for much of the game from advancing their score. With 2 outs in the 8th, Peterson singled to get on base, and pinch-hitter Jorge Saez smacked a monster 2-run home run up the middle to add a bit to the Yankees’ score. So far behind at this point, the Yankees eventually just ran out of innings for any chance of a comeback.

Final score: 8-3 Tigers

Next up: The Yankees return back to Tampa to host the Orioles tomorrow night. It’s set to be another chilly, dry night, which will be a nice break from the recent heat this week and today’s rather soggy weather. Luis Cessa is currently scheduled to start the game.

Tomorrow night, the Yankees will also formally announce plans for their 2018 HOPE Week (their 10th season). They will honor 5 individuals or organizations who have impacted their community over the week of June 11-15. To kick off this year’s events, they will honor Computer Mentors Group, a non-profit in the Tampa area that helps connect computer professionals with inner-city youth in a local mentorship program.

Another lighter note: The Yankees’ cheesy ads continue to be rolled out. This time, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will “bring the heat” in a parody of so many low-budget local repair ads. This one features cameos by Sanchez and fellow relievers Robertson, Kahnle, and Green. I am loving these ads by the way.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no video today again. Is anyone else so ready for the season to start?}

Spring Game 4: PHI vs. NYY — Last minute power to continue win streak

The win streak continues on this warm late February night in Tampa. The visiting Phillies certainly played better than yesterday, which pushed the Yankees to be better in the end. And it paid off.

Sonny Gray got his first Spring start tonight and had a pretty good 2 innings. Prospect pitcher Chance Adams got roughed up in the 3rd inning, beginning with a lead-off walk that stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a sacrifice fly. He then gave up a single that stole 2nd and a walk before Sanchez paired with Gregorius to pick off the runner at 2nd.

Jonathan Heller held the Phillies to that lone run in the 4th, despite a couple hits putting runners in scoring position. Ben Heller’s 5th was another challenge, loading up the bases with 2 walks and a single. A 2-out hit-by-pitch walked in another run for the Phillies before getting out of the inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were relatively halted in their offense until that 5th inning. With 2 outs, Drury worked a walk and moved to 2nd when McKinney’s hit into a messy single that was mishandled by the infielder. Tyler Wade then singled to score Drury, as both Wade and McKinney moved into scoring position. But a fly out ended hopes to tie up the game. At least then.

Yankees reliever Brian Keller held the Phillies to a scoreless 2 inning for the 6th and 7th innings. It gave the Yankees offense a chance to catch up in the 7th. With 2 outs, Drury hit a long triple and was pinch-run by minor leaguer Payton who promptly scored and tied up the game when pinch-hitter Miguel Andujar hit a solid double. Then in the 8th, with 1 out and Kratz and Austin on base with walks, pinch-hitter Jorge Saez singled to score Kratz. Austin was right on his tail on the way in, being encouraged home by the 3rd base coach, but the ball arrived home right between Kratz and Austin’s scoring and Austin was tagged out. But it was enough to give the Yankees the lead.

So all they needed was three outs and their win streak could continue. But since when do they make it easy? Yankees reliever Cody Carroll threw a great 8th inning and was looking at continuing that momentum in the 9th. And with 2 quick outs, things were looking up. But a checked swing was ruled a ball (and the entire crowd voiced their displeasure at the umpires), and it wasn’t more than a minute later that the batter hit a long fly ball that bounced off the top of the right field wall. It was called a home run, and just like that, the game was tied.

Into the bottom of the 9th, the game went, with all the hopes and expectations of the lingering crowd. With 2 quick outs, many of the fans were consoling themselves that a tie is still not a loss, comparing how in regulation leagues a draw is still awarded a point (a win is 3 points and a loss is 0 points). But then one nearby Yankee fan remarked that if anyone was going to do something it was going to be Andujar. And boy, did he ever, smacking a big home run right over the left field fence for a beautiful walk-off win.

Final score: 4-3 Yankees

One to Watch: Got to give it to Miguel Andujar tonight. He went 2-for-2, with that home run, plus another RBI, thus responsible for half of the Yankees’ score tonight. Plus, he’s always a great defender. That 3rd base job, or at least, platooning there is looking more and more likely if he can keep playing like he did tonight.

Injury news: in Saturday’s game against the Pirates, Clint Frazier ran into the left field wall (which was really just a chain link fence) rather hard and was later diagnosed with a mild concussion. He is doing better today, but he will be out a few more days and be watched carefully. With the rise of CTE in other sports and its direct link to concussions, athletes and their teams take even slight concussions seriously and proceed with caution. Take all the time you need. I think anyone would prefer a completely healthy athlete to a partially healed one. (Especially their mothers and wives!)

Next up: Yankees head back across the Bay, this time to play the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No broadcast tonight means no video highlights for the blog. Sorry!}

Spring Game 1: DET vs. NYY — Starting the season with a W, #MSDStrong

Every Spring Training is like a mini-family reunion for those of us who go every year. Like coming home after a long time, there’s lots of hugging, stories, and updates. Unlike last year, not much has changed at Steinbrenner Field in appearances. But as I was walking up to the main gate, I mentioned that baseball, as unpredictable and evolving as it is, is ironically the stable part of my schedule. Apparently, I’m not alone in that as my Yankees “family” echoed my sentiments.

Anyway, baseball is finally back. And the Yankees had to kick-start it with a nice win. Luis Cessa got the start for this afternoon’s home opener against the visiting Tigers. His lead-off single moved to 2nd on a long fly ball and then scored on another single to get Detroit on the board early. But Cessa, proving he could be the first call in a pitching injury situation, came back in the 2nd for a strong, quick 1-2-3 inning. Ben Heller followed up Cessa with his own fairly strong 2 innings. They were followed by Hale for 2 and then Lail, Coshow, and Gallegos each gave an inning for the final third of the game. Collectively, the Yankee pitchers only gave up 6 hits and 3 walks to the Tigers.

Comparatively, the Tigers pitchers also only gave up 6 hits to the Yankees’ stacked power-hitting line-up, but they also walked 7 of them in the process. After a fairly strong starter gave his 2 innings, each reliever took an inning and really kept the Yankees from doing much more than get on base and feel hopeful. However, one reliever decided to buck that trend in the bottom of the 6th after all the starters and stars exited the game.

Tyler Wade led off the inning with a solid double and then ended up at 3rd on a 1-out balk. After Higashiokka worked one of those walks, Espinosa was hit by an errant pitch to load up the bases. Jake Cave hit into a routine ground out that moved up all the runners and scored Wade to tie up the game. Then it would be today’s replacement DH Jorge Saez to single and score 2 more runs to give the Yankees the lead and eventual win.

Final: 3-1 Yankees

And the return of the One To Watch, the minor league player that caught my attention because he did something worth noticing… Today’s One to Watch: Jorge Saez. The 27-year-old catcher served as the replacement designated hitter today, and it paid off. He went 2-for-3 at-bats, with 2 RBIs that made the difference in the game. The Yankees picked him up off waivers from Toronto after the 2016 season. He spent 5 seasons in the Blue Jays’ minor league system and spent most of last year with AA Trenton. But he’s clearly doing something worth noticing — he’s hitting, and hitting well in moments that matter.

The Yankees head down to Bradenton to face the Pirates tomorrow afternoon, so we’re officially underway with the pre-season. Spring has really begun. Baseball is here again.

Before today’s sold-out game, prior to the national anthem, the Yankees hosted a moment of silence for the 17 students and teachers lost in the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Every MLB team and umpires wore the same “SD” ball caps the sports teams of that high school wear. While the agreement was to wear them just before the game, both teams today wore them throughout the game in their honor. The game-worn caps will be autographed and auctioned off for the Broward Education Foundation, the official fund for the victims and survivors. The baseball and softball teams from that high school were also special guests to the Marlins-Cardinals game in Jupiter, Florida (about an hour north of Parkland). Our hearts continue to be with that community as they recover, and we are proud of the brave who are leading the charge and movement for change.

Go Yankees!