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 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 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 13: DET vs. NYY — Friday night lights, close but kind of sloppy

There’s an old saying that a bad dress rehearsal means that you’re going to have a great performance. I’m not sure I believe this for a number of reasons that I won’t unpack right now, but I know the heart behind this message is to try to get all the bad out of the way when it doesn’t matter.

When things go poorly in Spring Training, a common sentiment is that the games don’t really matter. But of course it does. Everyone is trying to show they either deserve a shot at the roster or that they are continuing to grow as regular players and don’t deserve to lose their roster spot to a rookie in the wings. (Yes, all those theater references for you fellow theater nerds.)

As we all know, baseball is a game full of failure. The best batter will fail to hit the ball at all about 70% of the time. The best pitcher will still give up runs (for example, Mariano Rivera gave up 340 total runs in his 19 years). Even in a so-called “perfect game”, it’s never going to be 27 strikeouts, and in fact, those with the record 20 strikeouts in a game didn’t have a perfect games.

So bad games are going to happen. People have off-days. You can’t win 162 games. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start in tonight’s game against the visiting Tigers and pitched his way into the 4th inning. Actually, he got off to a great start, plowing through the first 4 outs and collecting 5 total strikeouts. In the 2nd, he gave up a 1-out walk that moved to 2nd on a single before he and Torres partnered for a stellar pick-off. But a double scored that other runner to get the Tigers on the board. He also gave up a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd.

Zack Britton got the final 2 outs of the 4th, finding Tanaka’s earlier momentum and handing it off to Dellin Betances. There’s been some talk about Betances lower velocity, but he’s getting the outs, like tonight’s quick clean 5th inning, so I’m not sure there’s much to worry about just yet.

Meanwhile, the Yankees actually were the first on the board in the 1st inning. Judge worked a 1-out walk, and then Giancarlo Stanton smacked his first home run of the Spring, a no-doubter, 2-run home run deep over the left field concourse area.

So when the Tigers tied up things in the 3rd, the Yankees found their pace to defend their home turf and hold onto the tie until they could find their opportunity. But while opportunity came several times, the Yankees didn’t capitalize on them enough to shift things back into their favor for long.

Domingo German got the opportunity for some long-term relief for 3 innings, starting with a scoreless 6th. In the 7th, a lead-off double scored on an RBI single before he got 3 consecutive strikeouts.

The Yankees’ offense found one of those opportunities in the bottom of the 7th. With 1 out, LeMahieu doubled and was pinch-run by Cabrera. Austin Romine hit a solid 2-out double to score Cabrera, and Lavarnway came in to pinch-run for Romine. Kyle Holder then singled home Lavarnway to grab the lead again.

But German had struggled a bit in the 8th, not helped at all by a sloppy defense. With 2 outs and 2 runners on base with a walk and hit-by-pitch, consecutive singles scored both runners, the last one in part due to a missed catch error in an attempt to get the runner out at home.

Tommy Kahnle got the chance to calm things down in the 9th, but the defense hadn’t found itself yet. A fielding error due to the lights allowed the lead-off batter to make it to 1st. And 1-out double scored the Tigers’ insurance run before Kahnle took control and shut things down.

The Yankees made an attempt at a rally in the bottom of the 9th. With 2 outs, Kyle Holder smacked a big solo home run, the ball landing on top of the roof of the bar in the right field bleachers. A double and walk kept hopes alive before a short pop-up closed out the game, with the Yankees a run too short.

Final score: 6-5 Tigers

One to Watch: I’ve got to give it to the minor leaguer that kept the Yankees alive in those latter innings — Kyle Holder. That 9th inning home run certainly settled things for me in this category, but Holder’s been one of those to watch for some time. He’s a great defender as an infielder, and his bat is clicking in high-impact moments. He could be one of those names to keep an eye on for more than just trade bait one day.

Next up: the Yankees play their first night game away tomorrow against the Orioles in Sarasota (about an hour south of Tampa).

Before tonight’s game, the Yankees formally announced this year’s HOPE Week dates — June 17-21. HOPE Week is the week during the season that the Yankees recognize 5 local non-profit organizations for their impact in their community, gifting them with their volunteering time, a monetary donation, and public recognition. This will be their 10th year of this program.

As they do every year, to kick-off the announcement, they also recognized a local non-profit in Tampa during Spring Training that helps their local community. This year’s honoree is Gigi’s Playhouse, a great center that caters specifically to children with Down Syndrome and their families, including programs that help with therapeutic and educational skills, career development, and global acceptance, all free of cost. Gigi’s Playhouse is an international organization that has centers all over North America, but the Tampa location opened just last August.

Go Yankees!

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 rain washes out early game

A heavy rain storm threatened all morning before finally beginning about 11:00 am with a drizzle and then a deluge. And just wouldn’t let up. Fans in Yankee and Phillies’ gear crammed the covered concourse at Steinbrenner Field, wishing for the rain to “come again another day”. But it was not to be. The fans would have to wait for “Tanaka Time”, Masahiro Tanaka’s Spring debut, currently on track for Sunday’s game against the Tigers.

And because it’s Spring Training, there will be no make up game between the Yankees and Phillies, but the two teams will play each other three more times next month. For more information on game refunds, ticket holders must consult their respective point of sale.

Next up: the Yankees head east about 30 minutes to visit the Tigers’ Spring home field in Lakeland. The first week of 2019 continues to be interesting, to say the least.

Go Yankees!

Postseason wrap-up, looking to 2019, Gold Gloves 2018

Red Sox Nation spent their Halloween dressed up as Red Sox Nation as their championship team piled onto the city’s “duck boats” and paraded their way through the streets of Boston. The mayor, former champion alumni (like David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez), and fans singing along to “Sweet Caroline” (bah-bah-bah) came out to honor the World Series champions. The next day, some of the team took the championship trophy to a Celtics game in hopes of spreading their “good luck” to other Boston teams, which might have worked as the Celtics won that game.

Meanwhile, much of the talk this off-season already is about the big class of free agents. There’s a lot of conversation as to where big names like Harper and Machado will land, but the Yankees cleared the “luxury tax” (or the Competitive Balance Tax) ceiling for the first time in 14 years. The luxury tax was created in order to even out the balance between large-market teams (like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers) and small-market teams (like the Twins, Padres, and Orioles). The tax was set at $197 million in pay for the 2018 season. The Red Sox and Nationals, however, were forced to pay the tax this year.

So, without having to pay out millions of dollars to the luxury tax pool, the Yankees are free to explore a high-ticket free agent, especially to add to their starting rotation. But whether they choose to do so is still undecided. In the mean time, they have a few Yankees in the free agent pool that they could re-sign for the 2019 season, like CC Sabathia, JA Happ, Lance Lynn, Zach Britton, and David Robertson.

However, one free agent they snagged early was Brett Gardner. While the Red Sox were partying their way through Boston, the Yankees were solidifying one of the last remaining homegrown Yankees from the 2009 championship team to remain a Yankee for 2019. He had an option for the final year of his contract, but the Yankees declined it and instead offered him a 1-year $9.5 million contract.

Next season will be the veteran outfielder’s 12th year in pinstripes, though his 15th with the organization, making him the longest-tenured Yankee on the roster. He’s really the heart of the team and a leader in the clubhouse, a fixture for the Yankees on and off the field. Gardner said: “I wasn’t sure what kind of opportunities I was going to have with the Yankees beyond this year and what would have been out there for me in other places. To get this wrapped up early in the off-season, it’s great to know where I’ll be next year and obviously what to expect. I’m going back to a place where I’m comfortable and very familiar. I’m really, really excited.”

Gardner was nominated tonight for a Gold Glove, his 4th nomination (2011, 2015, 2017, 2018). The Gold Glove is an annual award given to the best defender at each position in each league. He joined Aaron Judge and Masahiro Tanaka as nominees this year. Judge was nominated last year, and Gardner won the award in 2016. None of the Yankee nominees took home the honor tonight, but all three recognitions are well-deserved.

But there’s more to come. The Silver Sluggers, the award for the top offensive contibutor at each position, will be announced Thursday. The big honors (Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc.) will be announced the week of November 12-15, with the Players Choice Awards announced November 27. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are nominated for AL Rookie category in the Players Choice Awards and are up for the AL Rookie of the Year in the other awards next week. In other words, while the Yankees didn’t pick up any mantle hardware tonight, there’s still time to collect some bragging rights.

And speaking of bragging rights, today is also the 9th anniversary of the Yankees’ 27th championship. Back in 2009, Yankee Universe watched as Mariano Rivera got the batter to hit a baby grounder to Robinson Cano, who threw to a waiting Mark Teixeira for the final out of Game 6 against the Phillies. It actually came up on my “memories” feed today before veterans from that game like Swisher and Rodriguez posted their own memories online of that fateful day.

Finally, our hearts go out to the Reds organization tonight. Yesterday, three players, all 19 years old, in their minor league system were involved in a serious car accident in the Dominican Republic. Pitcher Jairo Capellan was killed in the incident, pitcher Raul Hernandez is in critical but stable condition, and outfielder Emilio Garcia is still receiving treatment for his injuries at the hospital but conscious and alert. Capellan was laid to rest this afternoon, his funeral attended by Reds players, coaches, and staff.

We join sports fans online as we extend our sympathies to Capellan’s family and friends and their prayers for Hernandez and Garcia.

Go Yankees!