Spring Game 32: NYY vs. MIA — No foolin’… Is it April 4th yet?

The Yankees are in Miami for a weekend of final games before the season officially begins on Monday. They played a game tonight and then will face the Marlins again tomorrow afternoon.

Nathan Eovaldi got his last start of the Spring tonight against Miami, and despite getting fairly roughed up by the Marlins’ batters, he managed to keep them to a single run scored. Not exactly “Nasty Nate” stuff, but depending on that trusty defense certainly worked in his favor tonight. He gave up 7 hits and 4 walks, striking out just 3 batters into the 6th inning. A bit of a rough adieu to this Spring for him.

Actually, Eovaldi kept the Marlins scoreless until his last inning, the 6th. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, then to 3rd on a single, and then scored on yet another single. A 4th allowed walk in his outing called an end to Eovaldi’s night, with the bases loaded and just 1 out on the board. So who do you call? Dellin Betances, of course. Betances promptly got the next batter to fly out to left field to a waiting Hicks who fired the ball home to a waiting Romine who got the guy trying to score. See, there’s that trusty defense.

Ever reliable Chasen Shreve threw his worst inning of the Spring (a hit and a walk allowed) in the 7th and still got out of the inning without a Marlin scoring or doing any further damage. Then Luis Cessa likewise threw his worst inning this Spring and wound up (by luck of statistics) earning the win for tonight’s game. Cessa’s 8th inning  started by him loading the bases with a walk and 2 singles. A sacrifice fly scored the lead runner, but then Shreve buckled down and got a strikeout and ground out to end the inning. Nick Goody’s 9th was a quick 3 outs, keeping the Marlins to those 2 pesky runs scored.

The ironic part about the Yankees’ win tonight is how terrible their offense really was in light of the statistics end of things. It was just 2 well-capitalized pitches that made all the difference in this game. Brett Gardner led-off the 4th inning with a solo home run to right field to get a run on the board; it was only the 2nd hit allowed by the Marlin’s ace starter (who also single-handedly struck out 7 Yankee batters in his 4 short innings).

In fact, the Yankees were down 2-1 heading into the 9th inning, with the Marlins looking for another of their super quick 3-out innings (which honestly was most of them for their pitching staff tonight). But then Hicks led-off with a walk, and Lane Adams was called in to pinch-hit for DH Rodriguez. Adams sent that ball flying over the center field fence and pushed the Yankees up and over the Marlins in a single swing. Of course, the same pitcher promptly got his 3 necessary outs in rather quick succession after that (2 were nasty strikeouts).

Let me explain tonight’s odd statistics: the Yankee pitchers gave up 10 total hits and a whopping 6 walks to Marlins’ batters, striking out just 4 of them. But on the other side of things, the Marlins’ pitching staff only gave up 3 hits and 3 walks to Yankee batters and struck out 11 of them. The Marlins clearly pitched better than the Yankees, and yet because that’s not how this game works, the Yankees still take game one of this weekend series.

Not that I’m complaining about that…

Final score: 3-2 Yankees.

Roster & injury updates: Okay, so apparently, Andrew Miller‘s insistence of playing through the fracture of his non-throwing hand now has the backing of the medical powers-that-be and thus will be on call for any closing duties come the first week of the season. (Still wishing a quick healing regardless!)

CC Sabathia was announced as the official 5th starter, with Nova to be throwing long-term relief out of the bullpen. Not really a surprise here, but Nova certainly put up a very convincing case. I have no doubt that he will be in the starting rotation at some point this year because that’s just how things work during the very long regular season.

And Kirby Yates (as almost everyone predicted) got the final bullpen spot on the 25-man roster, to fill in for Mitchell recovering with that unfortunate broken toe injury. This means there is a set 25 for Opening Day this Monday barring any other unforeseen issues. Fingers crossed, folks.

Today’s game invited a bit of a reunion of sorts for a few former Yankee players, posing for a quick picture for memory’s sake. Don Mattingly now manages the Marlins, Joe Girardi of course manages the Yankees, and Paul O’Neill covers the Yankees with YES Network. Below is O’Neill’s tweet about the mini-reunion.

One more Spring Game until the season starts… you ready for it?

Go Yankees!

{Media update: the game wasn’t broadcast, so no highlights. And while I probably should’ve done something for April Fools, I’m not really that kind of person… so hope you guys had a fun day anyway.}

Spring Games 30 & 31: STL vs. NYY & NYY vs. DET — Lots of home runs, by the other guys

Closing Day at Steinbrenner Field; split squad games; temperatures “feeling like” mid-90s under the blazing sunshine; and major moves, decisions, and injury updates. These are just a few of the things happening in Yankee Universe this Thursday afternoon.

For Game 1, the Cardinals made the trip up to visit the Yankees in Tampa in the last Spring Training home game. They faced Michael Pineda on the mound for a rather rough start for him today. Pineda went 5 innings, gave up 7 hits, no walks, and 6 runs, striking out 4 Cardinal batters. And this made the sea of red crammed into Steinbrenner Field super happy.

In the 2nd, the lead-off batter popped up a ball that McCann lost in the sun and missed the catch as it dropped behind him on the infield. When the batter realized McCann was going to drop it, he took off running to 1st, pushing McCann out of the way as Pineda grabbed the ball and threw down to get the out at 1st. But the runner was awarded the base due to “catcher’s inference“, which doesn’t really make sense as it wasn’t like McCann forced the ball to drop in the middle of the base path. And despite some arguing by Girardi, the sea of red was victorious. For all of two minutes as McCann promptly got the runner stealing second. A 1-out solo home run got the Cards on the board that inning.

They kept adding to their lead, starting in the 4th inning with back-to-back solo home runs, hit right up the middle. Then with 2 outs and 2 runners on base with singles, a long ball eked over the corner of the right field fence for a 3-run home run. And after a final strikeout, Pineda’s afternoon was done. An afternoon I’m sure he has mixed feelings about — as every run was off a home run from a ball perfectly placed in the strike zone.

Chapman’s 6th inning kept the Cards from adding to their ever-expanding lead with a quick 3-up, 3-down inning, with 2 just stellar strikeouts. The final one ended with the batter swinging at a fastball that hit 100 mph (or 99 mph on other radar guns).

But then things got messy again. Swarzak took the mound for the 7th inning, giving up 4 hits, a walk, and 3 runs for just 2 outs of the inning. A lead-off walk scored on a 1-out 2-run home run off the scoreboard. Then Swarzak allowed 2 singles and got another out. Another single scored another run and moved everyone up on a wide throw home from left field. Pinder came in to close out the inning quickly and gave an impressive 8th inning scoreless outing. Tracy, as well, showed off his reliever skills with a scoreless 9th inning.

The Yankees’ offense was stymied for most of the game, until the 8th inning. A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a strikeout-wild pitch-reached 1st safely kind of play by Headley. A 1-out walk loaded the bases before the lead runner scored on Lane Adams’ sacrifice fly. But the Yankees left 2 runners stranded and choked their rally attempt with a strikeout.

In total, the Yankees only got 4 hits and a walk all game, while they gave up 11 hits and 2 walks. Not exactly the best offensive day for the Yankees.

Final score in Game 1: 9-1 Cardinals

For split squad, the Yankees traveling team headed about 45 minutes eastward to Lakeland to the Tigers’ Spring Training facility. Chad Green got the start, and he also got roughed up by the Yankees’ opponents today giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 6 runs (5 earned), and striking out just 4 in just over 4 innings. A 2-out double in the 1st scored on a 2-run home run, and then the Tigers followed up with a solo home run to give the Tigers an early lead.

In the bottom of the 3rd, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on a fly out and a throwing error. And a lead-off solo home run in the 4th added yet another run to the Tigers’ score. They repeated that in the 5th, so that a walk and a strikeout later saw the end of Green’s less-than-stellar afternoon.

Tyler Webb came on in relief for Green and quickly got 2 outs to end the inning. He threw a near flawless 6th inning and went into the 7th inning with high hopes. Unfortunately, a lead-off triple scored on a sacrifice fly to mess up Webb’s outing. A double then scored on an RBI single, and a pop up gave Webb the out he needed before turning over the reins to Mullee. Mullee had less luck as he promptly gave up a 2-run home run to pad the Tigers’ lead further. But his 8th inning was scoreless, so there’s that.

Unlike the other game, the Yankees had a bit better luck against the Tigers’ pitching staff, garnering 12 total hits and 3 walks. In the 4th, Castro led-off with a single and scored on Austin Romine’s 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. Then in the 6th, the Yankees loaded the bases with singles and 2 outs. A wild pitch scored one run, and Chris Parmelee’s single scored Mateo. Then with the bases loaded again on a walk, the Yankees couldn’t capitalize on it and ground out to end their attempted rally.

In a last-ditch effort in the 9th inning, they loaded the bases up again with 1 out. Jorge Mateo’s single scored 2 runs. But once again, they couldn’t put things together to do more than that.

Final score in Game 2: 10-6 Tigers.

Fun random fact: in total there were 35 strikeouts between the 2 games (and 10 in each game to the Yankees).

And we have roster updates: the Yankees optioned Tyler Olson, Branden Pinder, and Nick Goody to AAA Scranton yesterday. And today, the Yankees reassigned Swarzak and Puello to minor league camp. Both Johnny Barbato and Luis Cessa got final bullpen spots, and Austin Romine was named the official back-up catcher.

Johnny Barbato was also named the Yankees’ outstanding rookie this year. Elected by the beat writers, the James P. Dawson Award was presented to Barbato before the game today, complete with a trophy and a nice watch. Barbato earned 2 saves, a 1.74 ERA, and 12 strikeouts in his 10 relief appearances (in 10.1 innings) this Spring.

Injury updates: okay, here’s the scoop on the 2 injured pitchers from yesterday’s game — Bryan Mitchell and Andrew Miller. Miller chipped a bone in his right hand (his non-throwing hand), and he will be seeing a specialist for further treatment. But he seems determined to pitch come Opening Day (should a closer be needed, that is) despite what common logic (and basic medical advice) might dictate.

Mitchell’s “sprained” toe was actually diagnosed with Grade 3 turf toe on his left big toe and a fracture of the sesamoid bone. Currently on crutches, Mitchell will see an orthopedic specialist in North Carolina (the same doctor who performed surgery on Jeter’s broken ankle in 2012) to see if surgery is necessary. But best estimates will have Mitchell on the DL for 3 months with recovery and rehab.

Now, with Mitchell off the roster with this DL stint, other relievers passed over for the job will now be in contention, but the most popular contender seems to be Kirby Yates. And that 5th starter’s job is still yet to be named, especially after Nova’s beautiful outing yesterday.

Plus, there’s still 2 more Spring games to play against the Marlins in Miami. So there’s still so much left to figure out before Monday. It’s going to be an interesting weekend to wrap up this pre-season.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 2: PHI vs. NYY — One of those days…

Some days, it’s just not your day. And today, at a certain point in the middle of the game, it became awfully clear that it wasn’t going to be the Yankees’ day. Unlike yesterday, where it seemed the Yankees never lost the hunger and effort to keep charging all the way to the end. Sometimes that works out for the best (like yesterday), and sometimes it doesn’t. But there is a feeling that is almost tangible when that feeling is there.

It wasn’t so much today against the visiting Phillies.

Okay, honest opinion first, the Phillies were hitting with some consistency today and their pitching wasn’t that bad in light of things. Between contact and throwing from the mound, they were rather sloppy, but that is to be expected in Spring Training. So I will give them that. And the Yankees certainly weren’t without their sloppiness, but their hitting and pitching wasn’t nearly as consistent. And thus, the outcome of today’s game.

Like I said before, the game started off pretty good for the first part. Ivan Nova got his Spring start today, going 2 innings, giving up 2 hits and a run, and striking out just 1 of his 8 batters — a 1-out single scored on a 2-out double in the 1st inning to give the Phillies an early lead. They didn’t keep it long as the Yankees answered back with back-to-back veteran hits — Beltran’s single and Alex Rodriguez’s solid 2-run home run.

The Phillies tied up the game with a lead-off home run in the 4th inning off reliever Diego Moreno. But the Yankees came back once again with more veteran hitters — Teixeira’s single and Headley’s double put runners in scoring position. Sanchez worked a walk to load the bases, and with 2 outs, prospect Lane Adams worked his own walk to walk in the lead runner to push the Yankees ahead of the Phillies again. A strikeout ended the Yankees’ hopes for a larger lead.

Then in the 5th inning, under reliever Jacob Lindgren, the Phillies began their run rally with 2 consecutive walks to start the inning. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to scoring position before a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases, and a walk brought the game back to that tie with a walked-in run. That was all for Lindgren as the Yankees brought in invitee Swarzak to close out the inning. But he too struggled. His first batter singled and scored 2 runs, and with 2 outs on the board, another single scored yet another run for the Phillies.

The Yankees made a valiant effort to gain back some of those runs themselves in the bottom of that inning. With 2 walks and 1 out, a single scored a run. But even with the bases loaded another out and a walk later, they couldn’t do anything to take advantage of all those runners. And this is where the air went out of their sails.

From there, the Phillies just kept working their lead, much to the detriment of the Yankees’ pitchers. In the 6th, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a flyout, and then scored on a really nice triple (a small hesitation as he turned 3rd made him miss the opportunity for an inside-the-park home run). After a pitching change, a fielder’s choice became a messy play, with the lead runner scoring and the batter ending up at 2nd on a missed catch error. Fortunately for the Yankees, with runners on the corners, they turned a good old-fashioned double play to get out of that inning.

And on into the 7th (which certainly felt like the longest inning of the game), the lead-off batter was hit by a pitch, the next walked, and a single scored the lead runner with the other 2 ending up in scoring position on a throwing error (and resulting messy recovery by the infielders). This triggered another pitching change, and despite a batter doubling home 2 more Phillies’ runs, he was able to shut the inning down with 2 strikeouts.

A new pitcher in the 8th still gave up a run to pad the Phillies’ expanding lead. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a 1-out walk, and then scored on a 2-out single. The 9th inning pitcher technically threw the cleanest outing, save a single lingering fastball that a batter knocked a nice solo home run right over the left field fence.

Of the 21 total hits in the game, 15 of those were by the Phillies. Let’s just say there was bit of a pitching problem.

The “one to watch” today was the 9th inning reliever: Brady Lail. He’s a young prospect, 22 years old, having floated around the lower levels of the Yankees since 2012. Last year, he worked his way up to play 7 games in AAA Scranton. Of all the prospect relievers today, he threw the cleanest inning (even better than some of the more established guys), except that lone solo shot. But it was still a good inning, and he deserves a lot of credit for working under what could have been a very depressing and thus messy inning. Instead, the young pitcher just focused in, shook off the run, and got the outs he needed quickly. That says a lot to me.

Final score: 13-4 Phillies.

Tomorrow, the Yankees take their first Spring road trip the 45 minutes up I-4 to Lakeland to visit the Tigers’ Spring home. It’s almost hard to believe it’s already Spring, and the Yankees have 2 games already in the books.

I was chatting with someone today that said something I always say to keep myself positive after games like this. Spring Training doesn’t really count. It’s like a string of exhibition games where we basically pay to watch every team try out various players to see where (and sometimes “if”) they fit in their organization. And after a few years, you kind of pick up on where a player might start the season (like I’m pretty sure a few of the guys today will probably start 2016 in AA Trenton).

Anyway, Spring Training kind of reminds me of that old show Whose Line Is It Anyway? The host would always remind the audience that “everything is made up and the points don’t matter”, usually followed by a joke to emphasize his point like: “That’s right, the points are just like the nutrition facts on a Happy Meal” or “That’s right, the points are just like street signs to a cab driver.” So I add my own: “That’s right, the points are just like any Spring Training game despite a 13-4 score. It just doesn’t matter.”

Literally, the stats in Spring Training have absolutely no effect on the regular season. Spring Training is like live batting practice and workouts and team-building and tryouts that we are privileged to watch. And part of the fun is that you’ll never know if this is the Spring you’ll see a future Hall of Fame great break out and become the player he’s always dreamed he could be. Who knows? Maybe he’s wearing pinstripes this March.

Go Yankees!

{Media Note: the only highlight available from the game was Rodriguez’s home run in the 1st inning. My mother (who goes to nearly all the games with me) noticed that all the cameras were covered at the game, so I knew that the highlight reels were going to be slim. Sorry! But as a Yankee fan, there’s not much you’re going to want to remember except Rodriguez’s homer.}

Spring Game 1: DET vs. NYY — Walk-off Opener

Walking into Steinbrenner Field today was like coming home again. It’s my fourth year of this blog and my fourth year of attending Spring Training entirely, and as we meandered our way to our seats, my mom and I mentally checked off things that remind us of “Spring” — certain vendors at their usual posts, security staff we know, the “beer-beer-beer” guy, the season ticket holders we always end up near, and the thousands of smiles and glances of anticipation as far as the eye can see in either direction.

It’s finally Spring here in Tampa.

And what a way to kick off the season! After a rather quick 1st inning for both the Yankees and the visiting Tigers (on a split squad day, and their opener was yesterday), the Yankees hit a bit of a snag in the 2nd inning as starting pitcher Luis Severino lost whatever momentum he had at one point. After a lead-off strikeout, the Tigers suddenly roared to life (had to, forgive the pun), Severino quickly loaded the bases with a single, a hit-by-pitch (a nasty fastball off his wrist actually), and a walk before walking in the Tigers’ first run. And then with the bases loaded, the Tigers’ catcher smacked a very big grand slam to push the Tigers solidly into the lead. Nick Rumbelow came on in relief of Severino and shut things down for the 2nd inning.

However, when he came back in the 3rd, his lead-off batter tripled (just a few feet shy of a home run) and then scored on a single. After another hit allowed, Rumbelow was replaced by invitee Tyler Cloyd. Cloyd closed out the 3rd, and despite a solo home run allowed, threw a decent 4th inning and an overall outing.

It was at this point in the game that everything shifted. The Tigers changed out their starter, who was undeniably good and kept the Yankees hitless and scoreless (with a Tigers 7-0 lead at this point). With 1 out, Starlin Castro got his first hit as a Yankee (and of the game) and then moved to 3rd on McCann’s ground-rule double. Teixeira’s walk loaded the bases and pinch runners were sent in for the veteran Yankees on base in hopes that quicker feet might turn that winking zero into actual numbers. It did. Aaron Hicks’ first hit as a Yankee scored Castro moving the pinch-runners (Romine and Parmelee) forward, but a missed sign caused Hicks to over shoot 1st and get tagged out. Dustin Ackley’s ground-rule double scored both Romine and Parmelee. And just like that, the Yankees were on the board.

In the 5th, minor leaguers Gamel and Solano were in scoring position with a walk and a double, allowing them to score on Gregorius’ ground out and Castro’s double. And in the 6th, invitee Dustin Fowler led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd after 2 wild pitches and 2 outs before scoring on Lane Adams’ quick double. When invitee Romero singled, Adams raced into home to tie up the game. And within 3 innings, the Yankees came back from a 7-0 hole to a 7-7 tie.

And for some reason, a whole bunch of people started to exit the stadium. Don’t they know how important it is to stay until the end? You just never know what’s going to happen. I’ll repeat the Yogi-ism in honor of the man they play for this year: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And believe this was going to be one of those games.

With 1 out in the 7th, Romine doubled, moved to 3rd on Parmelee’s single, and then scored on Fowler’s ground out to push the Yankees into the lead. Which they just had to hold onto going into the 9th inning. Nick Goody came on to close out the game, but got himself into a bit of a sticky situation — a lead-off ground-rule double that scored on a 2-run home run to push the Tigers back into the lead. After a single, the next batter ground into a double play, the ball came back to Goody who doubled the runner off 1st before getting out of the inning.

But it ain’t over yet. 20-year old Jorge Mateo (who already made a bit of a defensive splash at shortstop, though not the video clip to show you) hit a triple. Into left field. Now, that is significant for a single thing — he is scary fast. People who hit balls to left field usually wind up with a nice double or a single if they’re really slow. No, Mateo flew around the bases as if he had wings on his cleats and then scored on Romine’s deflected single (without a slide, mind you) to tie up the game. And it certainly wasn’t over. With 2 outs on the board and a pinch-runner in for the slower Romine at 1st, Fowler popped the ball out to left field where the left fielder promptly dropped it. Yes, it was an error, and Wade (the pinch-runner) comes flying around the bases to score the walk-off run.

Final score: 10-9, Yankees over Tigers.

And I can’t forget the good moments in defense (despite what I will say in the next paragraph). First, the absolute best pitcher of the rotation today was easily Mark Montgomery in the 5th inning. With the exception of Severino’s 1st inning, Montgomery was the only reliever to go 3-up, 3-down and shut down any hopes of a Tigers’ comeback (at least at that point). Another really impressive defensive move was Chris Parmelee’s unassisted double play in the 7th. And I must cap off this section by addressing the amazingness that is Starlin Castro, who basically cemented himself in the heart of Yankee fans with his offense and his sharp skills at 2nd base today.

Finally, the totals for today’s game don’t really show a lot for either teams’ pitching staff and a few issues with defense — a total of 25 hits, 19 runs, and 6 walks (though 15 total strikeouts). Be glad it’s still early enough to work out the kinks and figure out who’s still able to throw and defend for a regular season game. Let me say, it was certainly more than just a little rusty and sloppy out there for far too many plays.

Reviving the Spring Training tradition: my one to watch today is Jorge Mateo. Look, Mateo is a young infielder who is basically one of the fastest guys in baseball right now. He can play short stop, triple to left field, and score like Jackie Robinson (except in the 1955 World Series, when Yogi clearly tagged him out). He is certainly on my radar this Spring, and I know I am not the only one who feels that way.

The future is bright, the season has begun, so start dreaming those October baseball dreams now!

Go Yankees!