Spring Game 9: NYY vs. TOR — Prospective hopes, walk-off loss #2

Okay, so apparently, when the Yankees lose games this Spring, they do it at away games by allowing the home team to do so in a walk-off. I’d say it’s gracious, but really, it’s just frustrating.

Luis Severino started for the Yankees this cool afternoon at the Blue Jays spring home, just across Tampa Bay. Severino’s lone problem inning was his first, allowing his lone walk to score as part of a big 2-run home run to get the Blue Jays on the board. But following that, no one would do much of anything for most of the game. Johnny Barbato took over for Severino in the middle of the 3rd, got out of a jam, and breezed his way through 6 outs, setting the pace for the rest of the game.

The rest of the pitching roster maintained that momentum, just waiting for the Yankees offense to do something. Anything really. Actually, in total, the Yankees and Blue Jays were pretty much paired off evenly. Both teams racked up 7 total hits, worked 2 walks, and nearly matched the same number of strikeouts (9 by Yankee pitchers, 7 by Toronto pitchers).

But the problem is always the runs. The Yankees didn’t cross the plate until the very last opportunity, the 9th inning. With 1 out, Castillo singled and Diaz doubled, getting runners in scoring position (and pinch-runner Wade in for Diaz). So infield rookie Ji-Man Choi singled home both runners to tie up the game and force a bottom of the 9th inning.

All those Canadian tourists must have been praying a little hard, especially as the Blue Jays were looking for only their second win this Spring, because the second batter smacked a really big solo home run for a celebratory walk-off win for the Blue Jays.

Final score: 3-2 Blue Jays

Some good news for the Yankees organization. MLBPipeline.com named the Yankees farm system the 2nd best farm system in MLB (just behind the Braves), and anyone who’s been watching the kids in the minor leagues for any length of time (even just this Spring) can vouch for that fact.

The system is packed with talent — Frazier, Kaprielian, Mateo, McKinney, Andujar, and Torres. And we’ve seen the results of the system make their debuts last year and impact the direction of the Yankees in incredible ways in the likes of Judge, Austin, and Sanchez, all three of whom are expected to be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day. (That list includes Austin, who is currently out nursing his broken foot, with hopes of returning in April.)

I remember talking to a friend a couple of years ago, towards the end of Spring Training that year. She was questioning if I thought the Yankees were going to do much that year. I admitted that they would compete hard like they always do, but I just didn’t see them as the championship team they needed to be champions come October (and they weren’t). But I told her to hang on a few seasons because the kids I was watching in Spring were just phenomenal. I’m not sure she really believed me then, but based on some recent online posts, I know she believes me now.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see any good when all you’re shown is the bad. But that’s why paying attention to Spring is so vital. You can see the future on display in all its glory. And I gotta tell you, the future is looks really good. And the future is happening sooner rather than later, folks. Hang on to your hats; this is going to be something to watch.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 2: NYY vs. PHI — Wild pitches, a messy game, a walk-off upset

Today’s game in Clearwater was a bit of a reversal of fortunes for the Yankees, though not with the strong show from the boys across the bay as it was yesterday. The Phillies used their home opener to please their home crowd with a rollercoaster game and walk-off celebration.

Adam Warren got the start for the Yankees today and made a good case for the Opening Day roster with his 8-pitch 2nd inning and clean sheet in today’s 2-inning outing. Heller and Holder also kept things clean during their 7th and 8th innings, respectively. But other Yankee pitchers weren’t as lucky.

Not that the Phillies’ pitching staff were all that clean in their show today. The Yankees got on the board first in the 3rd. Prospect Gleyber Torres kicked off the inning with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on the first of two wild pitches this afternoon.

The Phillies came back to tie up the game in the bottom of that inning. With 1 out and a single, another batter reached base safely on a throwing error, and both runners ended up in scoring position. A ground out easily scored the tying run. The Phillies broke the tie in the bottom of the 4th with a solo shot over the left field fence.

That didn’t last long because the Yankees answered back in the 5th. With 1 out, Miguel Andujar and Torres were in scoring position due to a single and double before both scored on a really messy wild pitch to put the Yankees back in the lead.

The Phillies came back strong in the bottom of the 6th putting runners in the corners with singles. But then a double play still scored the tying run. The next batter hit an inside-the-park home run to push the Phillies back in the lead before the next player added an insurance run. To be fair, the ball rolled under the outfield fence and was considered a dead ball, but then the outfielder was told they could see it and reached for it. As soon as he did that, it became a live ball again, and the runner scored. It seems a little wonky to me. But I guess they’re treating it like the ivy wall at Wrigley or something. (Let’s be perfectly clear here though: Spectrum Field is definitely no Wrigley.)

Into the 8th inning, the Yankees came crawling back. With 1 out, Wade walked, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Deglan’s single. And in the 9th, Choi hit a 2-out double and then tied the game up on Donovan Solano’s single.

Then, the 7000 fans in red all over Spectrum Field got their final wish in the bottom of the 9th. With 1 out, a batter doubled and then (his pinch-runner) scored on a walk-off single.

Final score: 6-5 Phillies.

Well, if anything, we can definitely call today’s game more of a typical Spring Training game. It had its moments of greatness mixed in with a lot of messy. And the score was basically a good reflection of the day.

The schedule for the Yankees this Spring is a bit repetitive really. To cut down on bus travel, the Yankees won’t be playing all of the teams that play in the Grapefruit League. So, we’ll be seeing many of the same teams over the next five weeks. That means: no Marlins, Cardinals, Astros, Nationals, Twins, or Mets. And only a game (or two) from those a bit further: Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Pirates, and Braves.

It makes me a little sad actually. Not just for missing seeing those teams, but because part of the experience for these players is the bus ride experience to away games. It’s a bonding time, a time for memories to be made, and yes, it should be uncomfortable. It’s not a limo or private jet. It’s part of the experience of being a ball player.

Okay, and yes, I will miss seeing the other teams during Spring Training.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 1: PHI vs. NYY — 5 home runs & an almost perfect game to kick off 2017

Steinbrenner Field felt fresh and new as its gates opened this morning for nearly 9000 fans. The stadium finished its $40 million makeover, complete with all sorts of new features, best of all brand new seats. A guest high school marching band (Steinbrenner High School in Tampa), ceremonial first pitch (by the city and organization leaders who made the makeover possible), team introductions, the national anthem (by a student at Steinbrenner High School), and fireworks. And at 81° on this Friday afternoon, the first pitch of the season kicked everything off.

The Philadelphia Phillies came over to Tampa for the first game of Spring and the 2017 season, and the Yankees pulled together their strength to maintain a bit of a perfect game for the first 6 innings. A combined effort of pitchers Bryan Mitchell, Tyler Clippard, Tommy Layne, and Luis Cessa kept the Phillies off the bases for a strong show of force for a good portion of the game. All four pitchers spent time in the majors last year, and I expect we’ll see them once again this year.

But the final two pitchers kind of had some struggles. Montgomery had a really rough 7th inning, backed up mostly by non-roster invitees, who were quite a bit shaky in this year’s debut. The first Phillies batter reached first on a fielding error, and then with another runner on base with a single, another single scored the Phillies first run. A force ground out ended with a runner at 2nd on a fielding error and another scored run before Montgomery pulled it together and got out of the inning shortly thereafter. He returned in the 8th for a quick 3-up, 3-down inning to get things back on track.

However, Gallegos’ 9th inning was problematic. With 1 out, he gave up the Phillies’ first solo home run. After a great strikeout, the Phillies hit another solo home run. A single and defensive indifference put a runner in scoring position, but an easy ground out closed out the game on the Phillies.

The Yankees’ offense, in counterpoint, was in command from the beginning. With 1 out, Didi Gregorius hit a beautiful home run into the new seats out in right field to get the Yankees on the board as the Bronx Bombers. DH Matt Holliday made his pinstriped debut today, going 2-for-2, hitting 2 of the Yankees total 11 hits this afternoon. In the bottom of the 5th, Aaron Judge hit one of those monster home runs everyone always talked about — this one bounced off the big scoreboard in left-center field, barely missing clearing the board entirely. It was certainly a thing of beauty.

After all the major defensive changes had been made in the 6th, the Yankees were essentially the farm team on display fully that inning. In the bottom of that inning, with 2 outs and Tejada on base with a walk, Miguel Andujar hit a big triple to score Tejada. Then on a weird throwing error (the cut-off man threw the ball into the dugout), Andujar was granted home.

And after a rather messy top of the 7th, the Yankees needed a strong show in the bottom to come back and regain their strength. They got it. With 1 out, Fowler kicked things off with a triple and then scored on Torres’ sacrifice fly. Kyle Higashioka added another run with a solo home run of his own into the new seats out in left field.

But they weren’t don’t yet. In the 8th, with runners in scoring position, Clint Frazier’s triple scored both runners before he then scored on Refsnyder’s single to cap off all the Yankee offense this afternoon.

Final score: 9-4 Yankees.

I’m bringing it back again this year. I’m recognizing a Player of the Game (formerly the “One to Watch”) in every home Spring Training game (and the occasional away game). The player is not on the active roster, usually a non-roster invitee (especially in the beginning of the Spring). This game’s POTG is 3rd baseman Miguel Andujar.

Sometimes, it’s hard for younger players to shine behind the starting guys or those expected to shine (like those listed on the prospect list). But Andujar seemed to shine from his first appearance in the top of the 6th at 3rd base, along with the entire roster change-out. Offensively, he went 2-for-2, with that RBI in the 6th. Plus, he was fantastic at 3rd base, instinctively grabbing a line drive out of the air, and covering the infield with the finesse of a natural infielder with seasons in the MLB under his belt

Not a bad way to start the 2017 season. Well, with maybe a bit cooler temperatures, but I’ll take a win any day.

Go Yankees!