Spring Game 25: TB vs. NYY — Drizzly, dreary day can’t dampen the Yankees

For much of the morning leading up the game, the big question was whether there would be a game to play thanks to the ridiculous weather this Spring. Today’s skies began overcast and dreary and spend most of the day drizzling rain all over the area as a new front came marching across the state. Even though it really never stopped, the game played on.

The regular season home team of the Rays came to visit the Yankees Spring home for this afternoon’s game. And the Yankees decided to go with a pitching strategy the Rays tested out last season — a 1-inning opening pitcher, followed by a long-term reliever and a couple of closers. While the Rays didn’t practice their pattern, the Yankees seemed to find it work for them today.

Chad Green was the opening pitcher for the 1st inning and had a bit of trouble at first. A lead-off single raced home on another single that was aided to a sloppy fielding error in right field. But then Green quickly got 3 outs to get out of the inning. Despite getting on the board early, the Rays’ batters were stymied by the Yankees’ pitching for most of the game.

Luis Cessa threw 4 solid, scoreless innings, setting himself up for the eventual win. Britton and Coulombe kept things moving through the 6th-8th innings, before David Sosebee came out for the 9th. A lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a ground out and later scored on a 2-out single to double the visiting team’s score. It was a decent attempt at a rally that fell short.

This was, of course, due to the fact that the Yankees are really becoming quite the force this Spring. Down a run in the 1st, Judge redeemed himself for that 1st inning error at the bat. He worked a 1-out walk and then hustled home on Gary Sanchez’s double to tie up the game.

In the 3rd, with 1 out, Gardner walked and stole 2nd. He then scored on Aaron Judge’s single (the first single he’s hit all Spring, by the way). Judge scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s double, and Stanton promptly scored on Sanchez’s double. Torres led-off the 4th with a walk, stole 2nd, stole 3rd on a 2-out walk, and then scored on Billy Burns’ single. And Greg Bird smacked a big 1-out solo home run in the 5th to cap off the Yankees’ lead early.

Final score: 6-2 Yankees

One to Watch: It’s Thairo Estrada again today, mostly for his stellar defense. It’s always after he makes some outstanding play, like laying out for a catch in the infield dirt or one of those nifty jump-throws, that I’m reminded that just over a year ago, he was shot in a botched robbery in his home of Venezuela.

As a reminder, last January, Estrada and his wife were going out to eat when two teenagers approached to demand cash and his phone, but as he had neither on him, they panicked and shot the young prospect. They were never caught, a symptom of the awful situation currently ravaging the South American country.

Actually, Estrada still has the bullet lodged in his hip and spent the last season plagued by injuries to his back and hamstring in effort to come back eventually. And this Spring, he’s put much of the trauma and drama of last year behind him. He’s really showing why he still should be considered one of the Yankees’ most talented prospects. (The current rankings have him much lower than he should be, but the latest rankings will be released and updated following the finalization of current 25-man and 40-man rosters this next week.)

Next up: The Yankees will travel to West Palm Beach (about 3.5 hours southeast of Tampa) to visit the Astros tomorrow and see the Cardinals on Thursday in nearby Jupiter. Just a few games left of this Spring, and things are still going strong for the Yankees. How that translates to the regular season is still very much up for the talking heads and “barstool managers” to make their infamous sweeping declarations, and the teams to prove them all wrong.

Injury news: Unfortunately, it looks like Dellin Betances will begin 2019 on the disabled list thanks to some right shoulder inflammation and impingement. The impingement is when “you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion [top corner shoulder bone] and rotator cuff [tendons connecting shoulder and arm] narrows. The acromion can rub against (or ‘impinge’ on) the tendon and the bursa [fluid sac that helps the shoulder rotate], causing irritation and pain.” In other words, even just working out the shoulder could further aggravate the initial injury.

This means that Betances will need to reduce the inflammation and treat with some physical therapy and steroid injections to combat all the overuse of the shoulder, one would guess to be rather common in pitchers, especially those who throw as hard as he does. But the advantage is that the Yankees have a lot of depth in their bullpen. So a little delay in Betances’ 2019 start won’t harm the Yankees that much.

Before today’s game, the Yankees called on a fellow athlete to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Wearing her medals, Olympic jacket, and a Yankees cap, Abbey Burns threw to her brother, Yankees’ minor leaguer Billy Burns. She is a noted Special Olympics equestrian and swimming athlete and holds records in several categories of Paralympic American swimming.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 19: NYY vs. TOR — Once again… another day, another draw

In addition to missing the ready available video highlights (and even being able to watch games I don’t attend in person), I’m starting to miss games where there’s a legitimate winner. And this is saying a lot as someone who also follows professional soccer (where most regular season games can end in a draw) and as someone who repeatedly reminds readers that these Spring games “don’t count” for anything but a big warm-up for the big guys and a month-long audition for the younger ones.

But it’s another beautiful Florida day as the Yankees trekked across Tampa Bay to visit the Blue Jays’ Spring home in Dunedin (about 20 miles or 40 minutes west of Tampa). Luis Cessa was dominant in his 4 innings this afternoon, setting a good pace that was matched mostly by the rest of the Yankee pitchers, but also by the Blue Jays. In fact, Yankee pitchers held off the home team until the 7th inning. Coulombe gave up a 1-out double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single.

So, the Yankees’ offense actually held the lead for most of the game, getting on the board in the 4th. Gleyber Torres led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd on Troy Tulowitzki’s single. Miguel Andujar hit into a ground out, but Torres was able to score the Yankees’ lone run of the day. After the Blue Jays tied things up, neither team was able to crack their opponents’ strong pitching today.

Final score: 1-1 tie

Next up: The Big Game of the Spring — the Yankees will host the Red Sox. Of course, they’ve already played each other to open the Spring, but this time, they’re in Tampa. It’s sure to be a good game as usual and hopefully not another tie.

Some interesting news came out from MLB headquarters. They released some new rules to that will be implemented in 2019 and 2020. Coming this year will include changes to the fan voting for the All-Star Game (a graduated process), how much money the winner of the Home Run Derby makes (from $525,000 to $1,000,000), tightening the pace of play with shorter inning breaks, reduction of mound visits during a game, and trade deadline and waivers.

Next season will see the biggest changes. Rosters will increase to 26 regular players, which will “expand” to 28 in September, effectively eliminating the big “September Call-ups”. Other changes include further clarification of the roster, an increase of minimum days on the Disabled List, and a minimum number of batters a single pitcher must face (save injury or end of inning).

Yes, I have some opinions, but I’ll reserve them until we see them in play on a regular basis to see if they legitimately help improve the game or just hamper with unnecessary regulations. The changes to the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby won’t hit until the summer, but the more immediate changes to increase the pace of play (inning breaks and mound visits) seem more likely to aid the game than hinder it.

We’ll see it all in action shortly. So I’ll save my judgments until then.

And while it’s a beautiful day in Florida, our hearts are with those facing the messy snow storm in the middle of the country. Summer is coming. I promise. Take evidence in the fact that baseball season is already underway, and the “boys of summer” are itching to play in all those outdoor stadiums currently buried under feet of snow and battered by high winds. Stay safe.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No broadcast, no video to include. It was a slow day for highlights anyway.}

Spring Game 14: NYY vs. BAL — Solid Saturday (almost) shutout

There’s nothing like a little Saturday night baseball. Of course, a win after a messy loss helps make it a bit better. The Yankees headed down to Sarasota to play the Orioles this evening in their first night away game, mainly just showing up and playing baseball helped solidify their win tonight.

Luis Cessa got the start tonight and just dominated the Orioles for 4 innings and setting himself up for the eventual win. Tarpley, Abreu, and Diehl followed suit through keeping the O’s scoreless through 8 innings. Harvey then came in for the 9th and gave up a lead-off solo home run to break the shutout for the home team.

But the Yankees gave their pitchers enough run support to attempt that collective shutout. Tyler Wade led-off the game with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly. Then in the 4th, Torres doubled and scored on Greg Bird’s 1-out single.

Urshela led-off the 5th with a double and then scored when Trey Amburgey made it all the way to 2nd on a throwing error. Billy Burns’ double then scored Amburgey, and Burns promptly stole 3rd. Two outs later, Sanchez’s single scored Burns to keep the runs coming.

Finally, in the 9th, Angel Aguilar kicked off the inning with a solo home run. But after some more messy fielding and runners on the corners, the Orioles made a final pitching change and got out of the game without further damage.

Final score: 6-1 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees play another set of split squad games tomorrow. Part of the team will travel to Lakeland to face the Tigers, and the rest will stay in Tampa to host the Pirates.

And it’s official. The Yankees have announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be their Opening Day starter when the Yankees play in Baltimore on March 28. It was supposed to be Severino, but with his recent shoulder injury, the chances of his being in the rotation any time soon is looking less likely. Another option would have been Sabathia, but he will likely be starting the year on the disabled list and then has to serve his 5-game suspension for the game in late September against the Rays before setting foot on the mound.

Paxton and Happ will follow in the rotation order with the other two spots wide open for possibilities. Logical choices could be tonight’s starter Cessa, Loaisiga, or German or some combination of the three long-term relievers. This could include that weird opener method the Rays used — having a short reliever for the 1st inning, then a series of 1-2 long relievers before a closer finishes the game. In other words, there are options.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 3: TOR vs. NYY — Pitching strong to 1-hit Opening Day win

A rather perfect day greeted the Yankees for their Spring home opener — blue skies, sunny, a bit breezy at times to reduce the potential heat, standard Opening Day pomp and circumstance, fans to pack the stadium, and an inconsistent opponent with the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. Add in a pretty well-played game, and it was the perfect set-up for a glimpse of what could be this season.

Actually, the unsung stars of this afternoon’s game were the pitching staff, who collectively only gave up 1 hit and 2 walks and kept the game pace brisk to just 2 hours and 22 minutes. James Paxton got to show off his stuff to the Yankee audience during his 2 innings, handing things over to Domingo German, Luis Cessa, Green, Diehl, and Jonathan Holder. Cessa, in particular, was outstanding, breezing his way through 6 outs and potentially making a campaign to be back with the big boys after a really rough season last year.

The Yankee hitters certainly weren’t shy about getting themselves on base, racking up 8 total hits and 3 walks off Blue Jays’ batters. But the hits that mattered most were the lead-off hits in the first two innings. Troy Tulowitzki, the player who grew up wishing to be a Yankee, earned his pinstripes when he took the 2nd pitch of the game and hooked it just left of the right field foul pole for a great solo home run. It’s especially sweet for Tulowitzki because it was against the team that gave up on him when he was battling injuries for the last 18 months.

Then in the 2nd, Kyle Higashioka led-off with a huge solo home run deep into the left field concourse. Of course, it came just as I was having a discussion that he needed to really kick up his bat if he wanted to be more of a stronger contender for the back-up catcher’s job. This “jinx” didn’t work at his next at-bat, by the way.

Once the Yankees had cycled through all their players, it was time for the minor league guys to shine. And they did. In the 6th, Ryan McBroom led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on Zehner’s single, and both moved into scoring position on a ground out. Another grounder scored McBroom to cap off the Yankees’ scoring today.

Final score: 3-0 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees will host the Phillies tomorrow afternoon.

Okay, as is tradition these last few years, I’ll continue to highlight a “One to Watch” after every home game. This player is from the farm system, and their contributions to the game that day make them something to keep an eye on. Some of my previous selections are currently on major league rosters, some are now retired or have moved on to other career avenues, and some are still trying to make their mark on the league.

Today’s One to Watch is Ryan McBroom. McBroom’s defense at 1st combined with his base running to score the Yankees’ 3rd run today made him stand out among his peers. McBroom also originally signed with the Blue Jays 5 years ago before they traded him to the Yankees in exchange for Rob Refsnyder. He spent last year bouncing between the Yankees’ AA and AAA teams, with a .310 batting average and 60 total RBIs.

In the Yankee Universe: the Yankees have decisively said that outfielder Aaron Hicks is “their guy” by signing him to a new 7-year, $70 million contract extension, which includes an option for 2026. Hicks certainly proved himself worthy last year, finding ease in the hole left by the injured Ellsbury and becoming a reliable power hitter and defender. And with this new deal, the Yankees make it clear they are not looking for other help in the outfield nor are they willing to part with Hicks.

And for all you long-time Yankee fans, Andy Pettitte is back. Sort of. Today, they announced that Pettitte now serves as special advisor to the GM to help with player development. Pettitte confessed that he actually refused an offer to join former teammate Jorge Posada, who recently accepted a similar role with Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins. No, Pettitte has been trying to get a job with the Yankees since he retired in 2013, as he’s clearly a Yankee through and through. It’s good to have him back and see him don the pinstripes once again, as he did with fellow alum like Jackson, Merrill, Randolph, and Martinez before today’s game.

Boy, it’s good to be back. And it’s better to be winning.

Go Yankees!

Game 162: NYY vs. BOS — The game that didn’t matter

The postseason is set, with a few exceptions in the NL as to what some teams there will be titled and which games they’ll play first. (More after the recap.) Which means that for most of the league (save those 4 games), Game 162 meant basically nothing. It was just the final game of the regular season, and the results didn’t really matter.

Which meant that I spent a good deal of time thinking of that old comedy improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where the tag line for the American version was “the show where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” Then Drew Carey or the host would say something funny that also didn’t matter, like “the points are just like the nutrition facts on a Happy Meal.” Or “the points are just like street signs to a cab driver.” Or even “the points are as useless as the host on Whose Line Is It Anyway?.”

For the final game of the season, the last game at Fenway this series, the Yankees pieced together their bullpen again in an interesting sort of audition for who they will keep on for the postseason roster. Luis Cessa got the start, but almost immediately got banged up in the process.

He gave up a single that scored on an RBI single and fielding error. Another single put runners on the corners, and a pop-up got Cessa’s first out of the inning. A double scored another run, and the next batter hit into a single that was poorly fielded and thus also given a missed catch error by Cessa who twisted his ankle in the process and saw the batter also tweaking his ankle. They both tumbled onto the infield and sat there trying to assess the extent of their injuries. The batter stayed, but Cessa came out.

David Robertson came in to cover Cessa’s abbreviated start. His first batter hit into a grounder that the Yankee defense failed to turn two and allowed the runner at 3rd to score. Robertson then got a strikeout to end the messy first inning of the game.

Jonathan Loaisiga then got his turn in the 2nd. After a dropped foul pop up error, the first batter singled and then scored on a 1-out double. And a big 2-out 2-run home run furthered the Red Sox’s early lead. Loaisiga’s 3rd was much cleaner.

Justus Sheffield’s 4th was back in the mess. With 1 out, he gave up consecutive walks that scored as part of a 3-run home run. Then Tarpley, Cole, and Adams split the final 4 innings and kept the Red Sox from adding to their large lead.

The Red Sox’s pitching staff today was also a bullpen match-up, with most going just an inning. It certainly worked, as the Yankees didn’t break onto the scoreboard until the 4th inning. With 1 out, Miguel Andujar hit his 47th double of the season, officially tying the AL rookie record for most doubles. Luke Voit followed him with a 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board.

But they didn’t do much else, as the Red Sox finally played like the 1st play team they are and held off the Yankees for the first time this weekend.

Final score: 10-2 Red Sox, Yankees win series 2-1

Okay, so with the final game done, the Yankees finish the 2018 season with 100 wins and 62 losses. Some notable team leaders: batting average – Andujar (.297), hits – Andujar (171), doubles – Andujar (47), triples – Gardner (7), home runs – Stanton (38), RBIs – Stanton (100), runs scored – Stanton (102), wins – Severino (19), innings pitched – Severino (191.1), ERA – Chapman (2.45), and saves – Chapman (32 out of 34 opportunities). Plus, the team is 2nd in runs scored (851), 2nd in RBIs (821), 1st in homers (267), and 1st in the AL in walks (622).

Postseason: I will post more on this tomorrow, but over in the NL, there are 4 teams that ended this season in divisional ties and thus are now going to play their 163rd game to break the tie and decided which team is a division winner and which team will play the Wild Card game. The Dodgers host the Rockies, finished the regular season 91-71. The Cubs host the Brewers after finishing the season 95-67. That means the Cubs-Brewers are also competing for the team that will host the Wild Card game winner in the NLDS as the team with the most wins in the NL.

Like I’ve said before, this is going to be one interesting postseason. And it’s just getting started.

Go Yankees!

Game 159: NYY vs. TB — Late September Drama at the Trop

The Yankees “magic number” is down to 1. They are solidly 2 games ahead of the Athletics, so just 1 win in this weekend’s series against the Red Sox means that they have secured home field advantage for the Wild Card game, a much easier trip for Wednesday’s game from Boston. This would technically be the biggest “advantage” for the Yankees, as the A’s will have to fly in from California after their weekend series in Anaheim.

But that particular drama is a series away. And there was plenty of drama this afternoon under the dome of Tropicana Field in the Yankees final game of this series against the Rays, mainly thanks to the strong scoreless, 1-hit start by CC Sabathia and a power show by the Yankees’ offense.

In the 1st, Brett Gardner led-off the game with a double. With 1 out, Voit and Stanton each walked to load the bases. All the runners moved up on a wild pitch, scoring Gardner. Then Miguel Andujar smacked a 2-out 3-run home run to give the Yankees a solid early lead. The Rays changed their pitchers and that helped keep the Yankees in line for a bit.

Torres led-off the 4th with a single, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Austin Romine’s single. Hechavarria singled but then was tagged out on Gardner’s fielder’s choice grounder that left runners on the corners. Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly scored Romine. Gardner then stole 2nd and scored on Luke Voit’s big double.

So the Yankees had this hefty lead. And CC Sabathia was having his own strong show from the mound. He threw just 55 pitches today into the 6th inning, allowing just 1 hit, and striking out 5 Rays batters. Sabathia was having one of those good outings that made him a legend in his long career, and he just needed 2 more full innings to get a special bonus as part of his contract. Literally, he just had to pitch through 7 innings today to get a $500,000 contract bonus.

But in his 5th inning, one particular pitch hit a Rays’ batter and started much of the bitter drama today. It was an accident, just an errant pitch. Why would a veteran starter with a huge offensive lead behind him intentionally hurt a batter?

As a result of this hit by pitch, the Rays pitcher felt it was his job to throw at Austin Romine, narrowly missing the Yankees catcher in the face. It was clearly intentional, clearly in “retribution” for Sabathia’s sloppy pitch in the previous inning. So, the dugouts got their requisite “warnings”. And the inning continued. Romine struck out 3 pitches later.

After the drama with Romine, Hechavarria singled and then scored on Brett Gardner’s big triple. Gardner then scored on Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly. And then Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton hit back-to-back home runs to keep the ball rolling for the Yankees’ offense today.

And then we went back into that drama. Now, when Romine got “buzzed”, he fell onto the ground and was visibly shaken. Boone had to hold back Sabathia from charging out in defense. Had Romine been actually hit (or worse, hurt), there would have been some serious scrums on the Trop’s infield. It was that kind of tense. Sabathia wasn’t having any of this nonsense. It’s this old-school tradition that shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s really a ridiculous response, especially as the pitch at Romine was aimed at his head. You don’t do that. That’s bad baseball.

And again, Sabathia wasn’t having any of it. He threw away that all that bonus money with a single pitch to kick off the bottom of the 6th inning when he plunked the Rays’ catcher on the back of the leg (calf area). It was a lazy pitch, and Sabathia didn’t even seem to see that he’d been ejected as he was already on his way to the dugout. Boone was also ejected in the fracas.

Luis Cessa came on to finish out the 6th inning with 3 quick outs. He gave up a lead-off solo home run in the 7th but otherwise sailed his way through 3 solid innings, including 5 (of the 9 outs) strikeouts. Loaisiga closed out the game with a strong 9th inning to keep the Rays to that lone allowed run.

But the Yankees wanted that run back. Giancarlo Stanton helped them do so with his lead-off solo home run in the 9th, his 2nd homer of the game and 37th for the season.

Final score: 12-1 Yankees, Yankees win the series 3-1

Next up: The Yankees are traveling to Boston tonight to begin their weekend series there tomorrow night at Fenway. Their final 3 games will be played against the 1st place Red Sox, a potential ALDS match-up should the Yankees win the Wild Card Game. The Red Sox are set to play the winner of the Wild Card Game as the AL team with the most wins.

And a quick reminder going into the weekend, that the AL is set (division leaders Red Sox, Indians, and Astros, and Wild Card opponents Athletics and Yankees), but the NL is going down to the wire. The Braves have the NL East, but the Central and West divisions are a half-game apart (Cubs-Brewers and Rockies-Dodgers) as I post (the Cubs and Rockies play today, so this will change). Plus the Cardinals are just a game out of Wild Card contention. This means that the NL is where the drama is right now.

Go Yankees!

Game 155: BAL vs. NYY — Flailing bullpen denies Yankee sweep

In this final home game of the 2018 season, the Yankees were looking to close it out on an upswing. And for a good chunk of the afternoon, it looked like it was going to go that way in this final game against the visiting Orioles.

JA Happ had a good start, throwing 107 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and a run, and striking out an impressive 7 batters. His lone allowed run was a 1-out solo home run in the 2nd. Happ then held off the Orioles for the rest of his time on the mound.

And the Yankee batters gave him in enough to work with. In the 1st, the starter came off the mound after 4 pitches due to a blister issues. His replacement triggered an offensive show by the home team, loading up the bases with 3 consecutive walks. Gleyber Torres’ sacrifice fly (no media clip, sorry) scored McCutchen, Miguel Andujar’s single scored Stanton, and Gary Sanchez’s 2-out single scored Voit.

But then the Yankees didn’t do much more for the rest of the game. So the Yankee defense and pitchers needed to defend their slim lead. AJ Cole came on in relief of Happ in the 6th and just fumbled out of the gate. He gave up a double, a 2-run home run, and a solo home run to put the Orioles into the lead.

So the Yankees turned to Tommy Kahnle. He gave up a double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a sacrifice fly to add one more run for the O’s. Luis Cessa came on in the 7th and calmed things down a bit. But after some defensive switches in the 8th, he gave up a 1-out single that scored on a 2-out double to cap off the Orioles’ scoring today.

The Yankee bats never did awaken again this afternoon, an odd exception to the Orioles’ poor show by their bullpen this weekend. But baseball isn’t predictable.

Final score: 6-3 Orioles, Yankees win series 2-1

Next up: The Yankees are headed down to Florida to start their final week of this season with 4 games against the Rays before heading to Boston for 3 games at Fenway to conclude the season. The Yankees need to keep ahead of the Athletics in the standings if they want to keep home field advantage for the Wild Card game.

As I write this, the A’s are losing to the Twins. They have a fairly easy schedule against the Mariners and Angels to close out their season next week. So it really could go down to the wire for home field advantage in the AL Wild Card just like the NL is still a giant question mark for the postseason. And honestly, it kind of makes this last week of baseball all the more fun. Every game counts for something. Every moment matters.

Injury news: Getting lost in the fracas during yesterday’s win, it looks like Didi Gregorius tore cartilage in his right wrist in that slide home to score the winning run in the 11th inning. He had an MRI, where they found the tear, and a cortisone shot for treatment. Right now, they’re waiting to see how he responds to the shot. But if he doesn’t, he could be out for the rest of the season. Fingers crossed for speedy healing to the Emoji King.

Go Yankees