Spring Game 28: PHI vs. NYY — Friday night fireworks

A final game under the Friday night lights this Spring started with a slight chill in the air and ended with fireworks. Literally. The Yankees set off fireworks over the right field seats for the remaining fans in the cool night to ooh and aah over the short light show.

Of course, this was made extra special because the Yankees notched another win in the Spring tally tonight. After losing both road games, there’s something about that home field advantage that certainly seemed to help the pinstriped players in tonight’s game against the Phillies.

Jonathan Loaisiga made a fairly strong case for consideration for one of the open starting spots on the rotation, throwing into the 4th inning with 7 solid strikeouts. His lone issues were a 1-out solo shot in the 1st and a 2-out solo homer in the 3rd. Zack Britton threw 5 outs to follow him and kept the strong pitching from the Yankees’ side of things. Stephen Tarpley came on for just the final out of the 6th inning.

Adam Ottavino’s 7th inning continued that scoreless momentum, but David Hale had a bit of trouble in his 8th inning, giving up a lead-off single and walk. Two great strikeouts later, the next batter hit a deep single. But thanks to Trey Amburgey’s great arm in the left field and the relay back to the infield, the bases were only loaded, and the defense prevented at least one run from scoring. It was only a questionably called walk that scored the Phillies’ final run before Hale got yet another strikeout to get out of his jam. Then, his 9th was quick and flawless.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took some time to find their moments. Giancarlo Stanton got things started with a 2-out solo home run in the 3rd that just barely made it fair, just right of the left field foul pole. In the 5th, with 2 outs, Judge worked a walk and then scored on Stanton’s 2-run home run (back to that left field corner) to put the Yankees into the lead.

In the 6th, DJ LeMahieu hit a solid 1-out single, moved to 3rd on Urshela’s big double, and then scored the insurance run on a wild pitch. Then in the 7th, with 1 out, Zack Zehner walked and ended up at 3rd on Trey Amburgey’s big double. Luke Voit’s sacrifice fly scored Zehner and moved Amburgey to 3rd, partly because of an off-center throw from the outfield. A wild pitch then scored Amburgey to cap off the Yankees’ win.

Cue the fireworks!

Final score: 6-3 Yankees

One to Watch: We are getting to the point in the season where the minor league players play less, which makes this category difficult as there’s only so many plays and at-bats that can show off their stuff. But one name sticks out tonight — Trey Amburgey. In addition to scoring the Yankees’ final run of the night by rushing home on a wild pitch, he also showed off some great defense in left field by saving a run in the 8th.

Next up: The Yankees have their final home game of the Spring, hosting the Blue Jays for what should be a lovely Saturday afternoon of baseball.

Roster moves: Before today’s game, the Yankees made some roster moves of note. They reassigned pitchers Rex Brothers, Danny Coulombe, Phillip Diehl, and Drew Hutchison back to minor league camp. And they officially optioned Clint Frazier to AAA Scranton. This means that he is not making the 25-man roster. It’s a crowded outfield, even with Hicks still nursing his sore back. But you can imagine he’ll be the first call when something happens to one of those guys. He’ll be back in the Bronx shortly.

Injury news: On Wednesday, Special Advisor and Guest Instructor Lee Mazzilli was struck in the head with a baseball. He was helping with batting practice back in Tampa, while a large part of the team traveled to South Florida. He was immediately admitted to the hospital for tests and observations and was released today, said to be “in good spirits”. We’re all certainly glad he’s doing okay and hope he continues to recover and rest up.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 24: NYY vs. ATL — “Happiest Place on Earth” hosts a Monday night victory

As we begin the final week of Spring Training, the Yankees headed to Kissimmee to visit the Braves in their final week at the sports complex at Walt Disney World. The Braves will move their Spring to their newly built complex in Sarasota next year, after playing an initial game against the Rays next week just before they both begin their 2019 regular season.

So, tonight, Masahiro Tanaka got the start for the Yankees and held strong through 5 innings, allowing just a 2-out solo home run in the 4th, and collecting 7 stellar strikeouts. Tanaka is looking every bit the eventual Opening Day starter for the Yankees, something he’s clearly earning with outing like this.

Adam Ottavino had a bit of a hiccup when he came out in the 6th. He loaded up the bases with a walk, a single, and a 1-out walk. After another strikeout, he gave up a single that scored just one run. But the bases were still loaded. So Stephen Tarpley came on, and his first batter hit a single that scored 2 more runs, both charged to Ottavino, before he finally got out of the inning.

Tarpley continued through the 7th and came up scoreless. Diehl and Alvarez followed him by closing out the game with a scoreless inning a piece. The Braves were limited to those earlier runs.

This was especially helpful as the Yankees found a couple of opportunities to hit big and dominated the game. In the 2nd, Luke Voit powered a big lead-off solo home run. Two outs later, Wade doubled, Urshela walked, and both runners stole the next base to get into scoring position. They then did so on Ryan Lavarnway’s single.

Then in the 5th, Lavarnway doubled, Gardner singled, and Judge’s triple scored both runners. Stanton and LeMahieu each worked a walk to load the bases and were pinch-run. Then Austin Romine’s single scored 2 more runs for the Yankees to cap off the night.

Final score: 7-4 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will host the Rays tomorrow afternoon. The final week of Spring continues with the Spring home team playing the regular season home team. It’s always a packed game of locals, but it feels like a regular season Yankees-Rays game at Tropicana Field across the Bay.

There is conversation about the Yankees possibly picking up another veteran starter, but until things are settled and signed, it’s just rumors. Maybe there will be news after tomorrow’s game.

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 22 & 23: NYY vs. BAL & NYY vs. PHI — Double away victories, perhaps with some good luck

I don’t often look at the standings during Spring Training (or early in the regular season) because it never gives you an accurate picture of what the real season will look like. But I happened to see them today in passing. The Yankees are currently sitting atop the Grapefruit League standings, 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals. It’s worth noting the Yankees are also well in the lead over the Cactus League.

But as we’ve said in previous years, the standings in Spring mean nothing. It’s a very long season, and there’s far too many variables (like injuries, trades, hit streaks, and dry spells) that affect where teams land for October baseball. So, Yankee fans, feel happy about today but cautiously optimistic about 7 months from now.

The Yankees played another split squad day, but this time was unique as both squads played in away games. One group traveled about an hour south to Sarasota to visit the Orioles, and the other about 20 minutes west to Clearwater to see the Phillies. And both teams got a little “lucky” on this cloudy Sunday holiday.

Game 1: Yankees at Orioles
Jonathan Loaisiga got the start for the Yankees here and helped set a solid, strong pattern that would earn him the eventual win for the afternoon with 3 great scoreless innings. David Hale continued his momentum in his 3 innings, only allowing the Orioles on the board in his final inning.

So, in the 6th, with 1 out and a runner on 1st, a double moved the runner to 3rd to score on an easy ground out. Yankees’ reliever Hutchison sailed through the 7th but gave up a lead-off solo shot in the 8th. A 1-out single later scored on a 2-out single to give the Orioles just one more run for the afternoon. And Brothers closed out the game with a quick, scoreless 9th.

The Yankees once again got on the board early and first. In the 1st, Kyle Holder led-off the game with a single but was forced out at 2nd on Andujar’s fielder’s choice (again, another delayed, unsuccessful double play attempt). This means that Luke Voit’s big homer up the middle became a 2-run home run. Miguel Andujar led-off the 3rd with a solo home run into the left field seats, and Zack Zehner imitated him with a lead-off solo home run of his own, also to left field, in the 4th.

After the Orioles chipped some off their lead, the Yankees didn’t get another chance until the 9th to find an insurance run. Burns worked a 1-out walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Holder’s 2-out double.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Game 2: Yankees at Phillies
Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the Yankees had a bit more of a battle to the finish today, with a scoreless game for most of the first half of the afternoon. The Yankees finally found their moment in the 5th inning. Lipka led-off with a bunt single, stole 2nd, and easily scored on Trey Amburgey’s big triple to get the Yankees on the board first.

James Paxton got the start, throwing into the 5th inning, but finding trouble there. He gave up a lead-off walk, and the next batter made it to 1st on a strikeout-wild pitch. With those 2 runners on, Chad Green came on to try to shut down the advancing Phillies. But he promptly gave up a single that scored the tying run. Another single put another runner on base, so both runners scored on a triple to give the home team the lead. A great fielder’s choice got the lead runner out at home on the next play.

It would be Dellin Betances to right the ship for the Yankees, kicking off the momentum with a flawless 6th inning. Kahnle, Coulombe, and Anderson Severino (no relation) each took a scoreless inning to help give the Yankees a chance to regain the lead.

So, in the 6th, Greg Bird led-off with a big solo home run, and Gleyber Torres followed suit with a 1-out solo home run to tie up the game. In the 7th, with 1 out, LeMahieu made it safely on a throwing error and then scored as part of Troy Tulowitzki’s 2-run home run to give the Yankees the lead again.

But the hits kept coming. In the 8th, Tyler Wade led-off with single, moved to 2nd on Olivares’ single, and later scored on Cabrera’s 2-out single. Castillo’s single scored Olivares, officially sealing another Yankees’ win this afternoon.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will play another away game. This time, they travel to Kissimmee, about an hour east, to visit the Braves’ Spring home tomorrow night. It will be the last season the Braves have their Spring Training on Disney World property as their new home in Sarasota will officially open next year. However, they are scheduled to play an inaugural game against the Rays on March 24 before the 2019 season begins.

Finally, a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 20: BOS vs. NYY — A rivalry rout

No joke. It was crazy hot today in Tampa. The weather just can’t make up its mind this Spring, but as all my friends elsewhere keep reminding me, at least there’s no snow. Just lots of sweaty, sunburnt people packed into the stadium to enjoy a Friday afternoon of baseball.

Of course, this was no ordinary game. The Yankees hosted their annual Spring rivalry game against the Red Sox. As we all know, there’s nothing ordinary about a rivalry game. And today was no exception. The Yankees dominated from the start thanks to a great pattern set by today’s starter Domingo German, who threw a strong, scoreless 4 innings.

Chapman got to face one batter in the 5th, a warm-up act of sort for Holder to close out the rest of the inning. Adam Ottavino got into the only jam of the afternoon in the 6th. He gave up 3 consecutive singles to load up the bases, with no outs. But then the next batter hit into a standard double play that scored just one run, and a ground out got the Yankees out of the inning, removing the only Red Sox threat of the afternoon.

Tarpley and Reeves closed out the final third of the game, returning to the strong dominance the Yankees seemed to maintain all afternoon. Because the Red Sox seemed to have a really off-day, with some just sloppy pitching and plays. In fact, of the ridiculous number of runs the Yankees scored today, only half of them were earned.

In the 2nd, the Yankees began their eventual rout of their long-time rivals by loading up the bases with singles to Andujar and Sanchez and a walk to Bird. Then with 1 out, DJ LeMahieu reached safely due to a bad fielding error, which allowed Andujar to score. Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly scored Sanchez, leaving runners on the corners. Once the Red Sox pulled their starter, Aaron Judge smacked a solid 3-run home run to give the Yankees a healthy lead.

All the switch-outs and pinch-runners began in the 4th due to the length of the game at this point and the Yankees’ big lead. So with 1 out in the 4th, Tulowitzki worked a walk and replaced by Wade, who then scored on LeMahieu’s double. He was replaced by Holder, who moved to 3rd on Gardner’s single (replaced by Burns) and scored on Trey Amburgey’s sacrifice fly.

It was Stanton’s double that moved runners into scoring position (including his pinch-runner Lipka). Luke Voit’s big double then scored both Burns and Lipka. After a pitching change, Miguel Andujar singled home Voit to officially put the Yankees in double digits.

In the 5th, Bird led-off by getting to base due to a missed catch error. Wade’s single and Holder’s walk loaded up the bases. Burns hit into a grounder that finally snapped the Red Sox into good defense, getting Bird out at home. But then Amburgey’s single scored Wade, Matt Lipka hit into a fielder’s choice to score Holder, and Chris Gittens’ single scored Amburgey.

But the Yankees wanted one more. Gittens hit a 1-out double and later scored on Ryan Lavarnway’s 2-out double to add another exclamation point to the Yankees’ score today.

Final score: 14-1 Yankees

One to Watch: Chris Gittens kept jumping out to me this afternoon. In addition to his solid defense at 1st, he certainly contributed to the Yankees’ offense today in the latter half of the game. Not that they needed it, as Gittens was one of so many hits and runs scored today. But that position is key to any team’s defense, and he did so well. Gittens was signed by the Yankees in 2014 and seen most recently in Advanced-A Tampa and AA Trenton last year in between hip injuries. But he worked well today.

Next up: The Yankees host the Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon in Tampa.

History trivia: Amateur games of the sport were played from early days in America, brought over from European settlers that evolved from a combination of the children’s game of rounders and the still popular cricket. About 15 years before the Civil War, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was formed to help form actual rules like the shape of the field and what constituted an out.

More clubs were formed, playing ball games against each other as rules continued to be ironed out and regulations (like barring players of color and most immigrants by 1867). But it was still just a sport played by club members for fun (or “for sport”), much like people might play racquetball at today’s athletic clubs.

So, on this day (March 15) in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional baseball team, facing mostly amateur and semi-professional teams and clubs. An actual league was formed two years later and lasted four years, leading many modern scholars to question its inclusion as a legitimate league in baseball history. The National League (that grew to be the one we still have today) formed in 1876, and the American League became an official league in 1901. (In that same year, the club formed known as the Orioles, later the Highlanders, and then the Yankees.)

In other words, Happy 150th Birthday, Major League Baseball. You don’t look a day over 135.

Go Yankees!

Postscript: Our deepest sympathies to those dealing with the aftermath of the violence in New Zealand. These instances are always disturbing and far too frequent. Camaraderie through outlets like sports and entertainment is often a key to healing. May we continue to push for peace, unity, and celebration of our individuality as we process, heal, and strive for better once again.  May their memories be a blessing.

Spring Game 18: PHI vs. NYY — Another night game, another draw

Another great evening under the lights at Steinbrenner Field. A common conversation among Floridians lately on nights like this is the unattainable desire to have this kind of weather year-round. Of course, having a rather entertaining battle under the cool night sky and bright lights helps pass the time in what was a rather long game for Spring Training (3 hours and 36 minutes).

The Yankees got on the board first in the 1st inning. Gardner led-off with a single, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Stanton’s single, and then scored on Luke Voit’s single. Later, Sanchez’s 2-out single snapped the Phillies into defensive action and got Stanton trying to score a run and ended the innings. In the 2nd, Bird worked a walk to lead off the inning, moved to 3rd on Urshela’s single, and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly.

Now, Masahiro Tanaka got the start tonight, throwing into the 4th inning and fending off the visiting Phillies for most of his outing. In fact, his first allowed run was a lead-off solo home run in the 4th. After allowing a single and getting 2 more outs, he handed the ball off to Chad Green. But he promptly gave up a 2-run home run to give the Phillies the lead.

Adam Ottavino came on in the 5th, and in a shift from his previous outings, had a bit of trouble. With 1 out, the recent superstar signee on the Phillies reached on a questionable catcher’s interference. He then stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a single, and watched the next batter work a walk to load the bases. In a bit of a sticky situation, Ottavino and the Yankees’ defense limited the damage when a single scored just 1 run thanks to an on-point throw by Judge straight to Sanchez to get the second runner out at home.

Now, down by two runs, the Yankees needed to rediscover their lead. Giancarlo Stanton hit a scoreboard-clearing home run to lead-off the 6th inning. With a new pitcher, Voit worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and made it to 3rd on a wild pitch. After Sanchez worked a walk, Greg Bird’s single scored Voit and tied up the game. With another pitching change by the Phillies, Urshela hit a short single to load up the bases. Then Tyler Wade worked a great at-bat to walk in Sanchez to score the lead run.

So, the Yankees had to protect their slim lead. Tommy Kahnle continued his strong Spring with a quick, flawless 6th inning, but it was Drew Hutchison that commanded the latter part of the game with 2 strong, scoreless innings.

All that was needed was 3 outs in the 9th inning to close out the game, but minor league reliever Phillip Diehl struggled with his outing. And the coaches wanted to see him get out of his own troubles. He loaded up the bases with 2 singles and a walk with just 1 out. The lead-off runner quickly scored the tying run on a wild pitch, and a walk loaded the bases again. Fortunately for Diehl, the Yankee defense kicked in again and got the next batter out to hit into a play to get the out at home before a fly out ended the inning.

The Yankees ran out of outs, and another Spring game ended in a draw.

Final score: 5-5 tie

One to Watch: I’m going to give today’s honor to pitcher Drew Hutchison for his strong 7th and 8th innings, keeping the Phillies from trying to overcome the Yankees lead at the time. The Yankees picked up Hutchison in January, signing him to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training, after he played with the Blue Jays, Pirates, and Rangers in the last six seasons. He’s already assigned to AAA Scranton, so the chances are fairly high that the Yankees might pull him up at some point, even if only for the September call-ups.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Once again, there was no broadcast tonight, which is a shame becasue there were some noteworthy moments people would want to remember. Sorry, readers. Yet another reason to anticipate the regular season — all the regular video highlights.}

Spring Games 8 & 9: DET vs. NYY & NYY vs. TOR — A Sunny Sunday Split

The Yankees played their first split squad day of the season, a portion of the team staying in Tampa to host the Tigers and a portion traveling across the Bay to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. Under hot, sunny, clear blue skies, both squads actually played rather well against each of their AL opponents, striking first, hitting monster home runs, and showing off before fans on both sides of Tampa Bay. But there were some minor differences. Like one win and one loss.

Game 1: Tigers at Yankees (Tampa)
Masahiro Tanaka got the start for the Yankees at home today, and other than a lead-off triple, Tanaka’s stuff was just nasty today. I think we can safely say that “Tanaka Time” is back for the season. And the rest of the pitching staff continued Tanaka’s dominance — Holder, Chapman, Britton, Ottavino, and Abreu.

The only time the Tigers got the better of Yankee pitchers was in the 5th. Aroldis Chapman made his Spring debut and saw his first pitch of 2019 find its way over the left field fence. But then he found that momentum and fell right back into line.

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner led-off the 1st inning with a big solo home run into the right field seats. And Aaron Judge promptly followed him with a solo home run of his own for the first back-to-back homers of the season. Then in the 2nd, with 2 outs, Brett Gardner continued his “Gardy Party” with another big solo home run into those same right field seats. For whatever struggles he battled earlier this week, he’s clearly turned the page.

Gary Sanchez got in the fun with a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd, this one just over the left field corner. In the 5th, Gardner led-off the inning by getting hit with a pitch and was pinch-run by Amburgey. He then scored on Aaron Judge’s second home run of the afternoon, a 2-run homer that bounced off the right fielder’s glove and into that sweet spot in the right field seats. And once all the starters were traded out, despite a hefty lead, minor leaguer Isiah Gilliam smacked a big 2-out solo home run, deep into the right field porch, in the 7th.

Final score: 7-1 Yankees

Game 2: Yankees at Blue Jays (Dunedin)
Meanwhile, the Yankees jumped ahead of the home team early again. Luke Voit got things started with a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd. In the 3rd, Lipka technically struck out but made it to 1st on a wild pitch and then stole 2nd. Burns worked a walk, and then both runners moved into scoring position on a ground out. However, DJ LeMahieu only scored one runner with his single. And that would be it for the Yankee hitters.

Domingo German got the start in Dunedin today and threw into the 3rd inning, with scoreless results. But Danny Coulombe had issues closing out that 3rd inning, giving up a solo home run. But then Hutchison got things back on track for the next two innings.

Trevor Stephan came on in the 6th and gave up a single and a 2-run home run to give the Blue Jays the lead. He later loaded up the bases in the 7th with a double, a 1-out walk, and hit-by-pitch before handing the ball to Cale Coshow, responsible for all 3 runners on base. A sacrifice fly scored the lead runner, and then 2 sloppy errors allowed for one more run. Sosebee closed out the game with a flawless 8th inning, including 3 strikeouts.

Final score: 5-2 Blue Jays

One to Watch: The Yankees are making it difficult to select just one player every home game for this category. The minor league guys are just really good this year. So today, I’m selecting infielder LJ Mazzilli. He caught my eye earlier this week just working out before a game, with his zeal and energy, something he did from 2nd base during the game in Tampa today. His fielding was on display, making several key plays and doing so with such gusto. All of this helped today’s infield in the latter part of the game work like a rather well-oiled machine.

Next up: The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow (Monday). They will be back home on Tuesday afternoon to host the Braves.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 2: NYY vs. TB — First Spring win with some big swings

Shifting a little closer to home certainly seemed to help the Yankees shake off yesterday’s loss. Of course, that has nothing to do with the fact that they played a team that clearly isn’t used to working together, a clear contrast to yesterday’s opponents.

Jonathan Loaisiga had a great start against the Rays this afternoon at their Spring home field in Port Charlotte (about 90 minutes south of where the Rays spend the season and the Yankees spend Spring in Tampa). Loaisiga continues to show the Yankees why he was worth the call-ups last year and why he could be a contender for this year’s team. He threw a near flawless 2 innings, eventually setting himself up for the win.

Other names (perhaps familiar to frequent readers) that took the mound today included David Hale, Brady Lail, and Stephen Tarpley. Together with two other minor league relievers, the Yankees pitching staff helped navigate today’s team to their first Spring win.

Sure, there were some stumbles along the way, as we should expect in Spring Training. But they were able to fend off the Rays until the middle of the game. In the 5th, back-to-back solo home runs over the short left field fence got them on the board, and 2 outs later, another solo shot off the center field netting added one more. But a great moment (not on the highlight reel thanks to the away broadcast) was the final play of the inning — when catcher Lavernway threw to shortstop Cabrera in a blink-and-you-miss-it play to catch the runner stealing 2nd.

In the 6th, a 1-out single scored as part of a 2-run home run to give the fans a bit of something to cling to in what became the Rays’ 3rd loss of the Spring. It’s worth noting that much like at the Rays’ regular home in St. Petersburg, the majority of fans in the stands today were clearly Yankees fans. As if the echoing cheers during positive Yankee moments weren’t making that obvious.

And those cheers began early today, with the Yankees once again jumping out in front right in the 1st inning. Tyler Wade hit a ground-rule double and then scored on Luke Voit’s single. Estevan Florial kicked off the 2nd inning with a single, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then easily scored on another wild pitch. Two outs and a new pitcher later, Holder and LeMahieu singled to get on base, and Wade’s double scored Holder for a rather easy early Yankees’ lead.

Then in the 4th, with 1 out, LeMahieu walked, Wade singled, and they both scored with Luke Voit’s powerful 3-run home run over that left field fence to double the Yankees’ score. After the Rays got a few runs on the board, the Yankees got a few back in the 6th when Mazilli singled and then scored as part of Matt Lipka’s 2-run home run (yes, to left field).

It was enough to claim their first win this Spring.

Final score: 8-5 Yankees

Next up: for Opening Day, the Yankees will host the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field tomorrow afternoon. And because it’s both Opening Day and their home, you can expect to see some appearances by the “big guys”. There’s nothing like Opening Day. I can’t wait.

Go Yankees!