Spring Games 15 & 16: NYY vs. DET & PIT vs. NYY — A draw and a win on a sunny Sunday

Another split squad series, another sunny and hot afternoon, another set of mixed results. At least today’s results leaned positive for the Yankees.

Game 1: Yankees at Detroit
Some of the Yankees traveled about 40 minutes east to visit the Tigers again in Lakeland and honestly battled their way through the afternoon in an oddly evenly-matched game. Nestor Cortes got the started and pitched his way into the 3rd inning, only giving up a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd.

Then the Yankees and Tigers kept the game close for most of the game, thanks to the great defense and pitching on both sides. The Yankees didn’t find their breakthrough until the 7th. Voit led-off with a walk and was pinch-run by Brandon Wagner. Miguel Andujar then hit a big double, and Wagner made an effort to score the Yankees’ first run. But a great relay got him out at home, with Andujar making it to 3rd on the throw. He was then pinch-run by Cabrera, who finally scored a Yankees’ run on Ryan Lavarnway’s single.

Another out later, the Yankees loaded up the bases with 2 walks. But a pitching change and a pop-up ended their attempt to break the tie. But Brandon Wagner broke it in the 8th with a 2-out solo home run, and the Yankees had their lead for the first time all afternoon in Lakeland.

It didn’t last long. In the bottom of the 8th, Danny Farquhar came out for the Yankees to try to protect the lead. A lead-off single was quickly caught stealing 2nd for his first out, and after another out, he loaded up the bases with 3 consecutive walks. David Hale came on in relief and promptly walked in the tying and final run.

Final score: 2-2 tie

Game 2: Pirates at Yankees
Meanwhile, back home in Tampa, the Yankees battled the visiting Pirates for the afternoon. JA Happ got the start at Steinbrenner Field, pitching 4 innings and struggling a bit in the middle. In the 2nd, with 1 out and runners on the corners with singles, a sacrifice fly scored the Pirates’ first run. And back-to-back solo home runs in the 3rd gave the Pirates a solid lead.

The Yankees finally found their offense in the 4th. They loaded up the bases with walks to 3 power-hitters — Judge, Stanton, and Bird. Gleyber Torres was then walked to scored Judge for the Yankees’ first run of the day in Tampa. With a new pitcher, Troy Tulowitzki ground into a double play, but it still scored Stanton and moved Bird to 3rd. Clint Frazier’s single then scored Bird to tie up the game in a single inning. Then in the 5th, Gio Urshela led-off with a solo home run to put the Yankees in the lead.

Adam Ottavino’s 5th inning was just filthy stuff, catching the eye of both fellow Yankees and their opponents. It was very much a “blink and you miss it” kind of inning, with the new Yankees just getting 3 straight strikeouts. Chapman followed that up with a solid 6th inning of his own, and things were looking up for the Yankees as they tried to gain some further momentum.

But Dellin Betances had a bit of a struggle in his 7th inning. He gave up a lead-off triple, due in part to some sun-influenced defensive issues. A single then scored that runner to tie the game up again. After a solid strikeout, he walked 2 batters to load up the batters. Jonathan Holder came in to try to save the inning, giving up a sacrifice fly that put the Pirates back on top.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees weren’t going to let this game go just yet. Jackson led-off with a single and then scored on Zack Zehner’s monster 2-run home run over the left field concourse to get the lead back to the home team. Tommy Kahnle’s final 4 outs closed out the game and protected the Yankees’ lead.

Final score: 6-5 Yankees

One to watch: I’m going to give today’s honor to Gio Urshela, who’s really been rising in recognition this Spring. And today, in addition to being the Yankees’ starting 3rd baseman, he also hit that great home run in the 5th to put the Yankees in their first lead of the afternoon. He was traded to the Yankees late last year after stints with the Indians and Blue Jays, playing in the big leagues with both previous teams. He’s not really been on anyone’s radar, but he could potentially be some great back-up for the infield should problems arise this season.

Next up: after an off-day tomorrow (Monday), the Yankees will take on the Orioles at home Tuesday night. There’s 15 scheduled games left, just a little more than halfway through the Spring, or about 2 weeks.

In Yankee Universe news: Babe Ruth’s last living daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, died Saturday at the age of 102. Ruth adopted Julia when he married her mother in 1929, but she remained an avid fan of Ruth’s original team, the Red Sox, being a frequent fan in the stands up until a few years ago. Our thoughts and condolences are with her son, two grandchildren, and four great grandchildren at this time.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Neither game today was broadcast, so there was minimal video highlights to share. Apologies, fans!}

Spring Game 12: NYY vs. PHI — Good pitching makes all the difference

In contrast to yesterday’s game, the Yankees certainly found their pitching dominance to shut out the Phillies at their home field this afternoon. Led by two off-season veteran acquisitions, the Yankees proved that being good on paper can translate to being good in reality. Add in some decent offense, and it was a beautiful day for Yankees baseball. Even if they were in Clearwater (rather than at home across the Bay in Tampa).

James Paxton (also known as “Big Maple” thanks to his Canadian roots and giant maple leaf arm tattoo) got the start today and powered his way into the 4th inning, setting the scoreless and strikeout momentum for the rest of the pitching staff today. He handed the ball over to reliever Adam Ottavino who plowed through 5 outs with 3 amazing strikeouts.

With recent and lingering injuries, especially with the pitching staff, it’s rather reassuring to have some of the new guys come out and stay strong. A sigh of relief, perhaps, as they sort out how to deal with those pesky injuries and cope with the hole they leave in the roster and state of play.

Relievers Holder, Farquhar, and Hale split the final half of the game and kept the Phillies scoreless through the end of the afternoon. In total, Yankee pitchers got 12 strikeouts off Phillies’ batters.

Of course, Phillies’ pitchers weren’t exactly going easy on the visiting Yankees (including 13 strikeouts). But the Yankee batters found their moments. In the 4th, Miguel Andujar led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on Voit’s walk. Two outs and a new pitcher later, a wild pitch moved the runners to scoring position, and another one scored Andujar to give the Yankees their first run.

The Yankees loaded up the bases as Andujar led-off the 6th with another single, Voit walked again, and Bird worked a 1-out walk. Clint Frazier’s sacrifice fly scored Andujar. But it was Estevan Florial’s solid 3-run home run that had everyone talking this afternoon. One comparison was made in the moment to the likes of Reggie Jackson, who happened to be sitting in the dugout today.

Mike Ford led-off the 8th with a solo home run for just one more run for the Yankees today. Unnecessary for the win, but a solid continuation of the great day and win for the Yankees.

Final score: 6-0 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will host the Tigers tomorrow night back in Tampa.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 7: NYY vs. PIT — Triumphant return in afternoon loss

April 20, 2018. Just a random Friday in Chicago. But it would be a day that would change reliever Danny Farquhar’s life forever. After a brief stint on the mound, Farquhar made his way to the dugout feeling a little off before just collapsing. He was rushed to the hospital where they found that he was suffering from a sudden brain hemorrhage and operated immediately. He went through two weeks of intensive care in hopes that he would even walk out of the hospital.

But he did. He even threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox’s game on June 1. Despite his slow and miraculous recovery, his 2018 was over, and his baseball career looked hopeless. But for a man given a second chance at life, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over“. And in January, the Yankees decided to take a chance and invite the veteran reliever to a minor league contract and as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. The Yankees believed in him, so maybe, just maybe, the impossible could be possible.

Today, the Yankees traveled about 40 minutes south to Bradenton to visit the Pirates on this sunny Saturday afternoon. And the Yankees once again stuck first in the 1st. Tulowitzki hit a 1-out double and then scored on Miguel Andujar’s double to give the Yankees the early lead.

In the 2nd, Florial led-off with a double and then scored on Thairo Estrada’s single and a throwing error. Then in the 3rd, Frazier worked a 2-out double, stole 3rd, and then easily scored on Estevan Florial’s double, though he was tagged out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Starter Luis Cessa had a pretty good outing this afternoon until the 3rd inning. A lead-off double scored on a single, but then he got a great double play. A double threatened again, but Cessa found his momentum again and got a great strikeout to close out his outing.

Cessa handed the game over to Danny Farquhar. And while the game certainly didn’t have a fairy tale ending, it certainly felt like one. Farquhar is still scraping off the rust and his 4th inning showed it. He gave up a double and a 1-out walk that scored on a single and error. After another walk, another single scored the lead runner.

Stephen Tarpley tried to stem Farquhar’s mess, but stumbled a bit by giving up a deep 2-out triple to score both of Farquhar’s remaining runners and ultimately gave the loss to the recovered pitcher. Harvey had better luck with his 2 outs, as did David Hale in his first bit. But after 2 out sin the 7th, he gave up 3 consecutive doubles to score 2 more Pirates’ runs that eventually gave them the insurance run they’d need today. Diehal and Lail closed out the day with near perfect 4 outs among them.

The Yankees did attempt to chip away at the Pirates’ lead. In the 6th, Clint Frazier led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Trey Amburgey’s ground out. And in their last attempt to rally, the Yankees found some momentum in the 9th.

With 1 out, Park singled, Castillo singled, Mike Ford singled home Park, and Cabrera’s single loaded the bases. After a pitching change, Ryan Lavarnway’s solid single scored both Castillo and Ford. But two outs later, the Yankees had fallen just a run shy of the home team.

Final score: 8-7 Pirates

Next up: the Yankees play their first split squad game of the season. Part of the team will travel to Dunedin to face the Blue Jays, and part of the team will stay in Tampa to host the Tigers.

And yes, it looks like another warm, sunny weekend day for baseball. For an easy comparison as to why they do Spring Training in Florida (and Arizona), look no further than the snow my friends and family woke up to in New York today. It’s March, but it’s clearly still winter. What does that silly Groundhog know? Nothing. It’s not actually Spring until March 20th anyway because of the whole vernal equinox thing.

We know different here in Florida.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: again, no broadcast means almost no highlights to include in today’s post. Sorry. More regular broadcasts begin tomorrow, so there will be more highlights available.}

Spring Game 4: NYY vs. DET — More rain shortens rough game

The same front that washed out yesterday’s game continues to bring further bands of rain through the area and ended up shortening today’s game. And part of me thinks this might have been a relief for the Yankees, who were just getting roughed up today.

The Yankees traveled about 40 minutes east to visit the Tigers’ Spring home field in Lakeland, and things started like they have for the last 3 games — with the Yankees hitting first and hard. Hicks led-off the game with a double, and Voit worked a 1-out walk. Miguel Andujar hit a baby grounder, but a throwing error only allowed the Tigers to get the out at 2nd as Hicks spend his way home to score the first run. Torres then singled, and Greg Bird hit a big 3-run home run to give the Yankees a nice early lead.

But today’s starter Chance Adams just couldn’t find his pitches and didn’t even make it out of the first inning. He gave up a walk and single that both scored on a double. A double and triple easily scored 2 more runs before Adams finally got an out, an easy ground out. Brady Lail struggled a bit to get out of the inning, when a single scored Adams’ final runner, but then a beautiful double play closed the exhausting inning.

After an easier 2nd, Domingo Acevedo found his own set of struggles in the 3rd inning. With 2 outs, he loaded up the bases with a single, walk, and hit-by-pitch before giving up a walk to easily score the lead runner. The next batter promptly smacked a big grand slam to ensure the Yankees were overwhelmed by the home team today.

Despite starting the game with blue, sunny skies, the storm front crept its way across the area and clouded up the previous beautiful vista. And then it started raining. A bit too hard. So they brought out the tarp in the 6th inning and delayed the game for 16 minutes.

The rain cleared, and play resumed amid a bit of a drizzle. But as Kyle Holder led off the 7th with a solid hit, the rain worsened. Teams headed to their dugouts, as fans scurried to the nearest coverage. It just wasn’t going to happen. The game was mercifully called.

Final score: 10-4 Tigers, in 7 innings (thanks to Holder’s lone at-bat)

Next up: the Yankees play host again, this time to the Pirates. And the weather report reads about 10% chance of rain, but a bit humid as that aforementioned front settles over the area. In other words, there’ll be a game, but it’s going to be that typical Florida weather.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no broadcast means no media clips to include in today’s post. Not that there’s much outside the first half-inning to remember for the Yankees.}

Off-season bits: January edition

Happy 2019! It’s only 30 days until pitchers and catcher report to the Tampa minor league complex and officially kick off Spring Training and the 2019 baseball season. There hasn’t really be a lot of splashy signings by the Yankees this off-season, and it looks like the two biggest free agents will be signing elsewhere. But there’s still quite a bit of time before Spring Training, and even more time before the regular season to finalize that perfect 25-man roster.

Last month, CC Sabathia’s off-season took a bit of a detour. He was supposed to travel around England on a press tour for the upcoming Yankees-Red Sox series in the UK this summer, but instead found himself on the operating table getting a stent put in his heart. After experiencing some discomfort during his exercise routine, he was smart enough to listen to his body and see a doctor, who found a 90% blocked artery and scheduled an emergency angioplasty on December 11.

Just last week, he was cleared to resume baseball activities and is on track to report for camp next month with the other pitchers and catchers. Doctors have pronounced him in excellent condition, including for the long-term (much to the relief of his wife and family). Sabathia himself said he felt “like a brand new person“. This procedure is just further support for Sabathia’s recent lifestyle changes — abstaining from alcohol and altering his diet and nutrition intake, something he hopes can carry him through the rest of his life, deterring any future issues with his genetic predisposition for heart disease.

Meanwhile, the Yankees haven’t made any big name signings, but they have secured three decently recognizable names to their major league roster. To provide back-up for Didi Gregorius while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a year.

Formerly with the Rockies and Blue Jays and winner of two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, the five-time All-Star is now 34 and has been inactive for the last 18 months due to a plague of injuries, but was released by the Blue Jays despite owing him a hefty salary for the next two seasons. Tulowitzki has worn #2 in honor of his childhood baseball hero Derek Jeter for his entire MLB career, so it will be interesting to find out what number he’ll don as Jeter’s famous number was retired nearly three year ago.

They also signed free agent infielder DJ LeMathieu to a 2-year contract. LeMathieu has spent all 8 of his MLB seasons with the Rockies at 2nd base and will join his former teammate on the Yankees roster. Both LeMathieu and Tulowitzki could serve as rather active bench players through the season as part of the now full infield.

And the Yankees made the biggest impact by re-signing reliever Zach Britton to a new 3-year contract (potentially 4 if options are exercised), solidifying his presence in the already stellar bullpen with fellow closing relievers like Betances and Chapman.

To make room for the two new faces, the Yankees designated reliever AJ Cole and minor league infielder Hanser Alberto for assignment. Both were picked up quickly by the Indians and Orioles, respectively.

At the end of last year, the Yankees offered all arbitration-eligible players a 1-year deal to close out their contract agreements before the players have the potential to become free agents. Eight players agreed to the Yankees’ terms — Betances, Bird, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Paxton and Romine. The remaining player, Luis Severino, is still in negotiations as of this weekend, which can continue until a hearing is held where an arbitrator makes a decision how much a team must pay a player.

And for those of you that pay attention to other sports, you might know that as of yesterday, there are only four teams left in the NFL playoffs. Next weekend will eliminate two more so that the winners of those two games will end up playing in the Superbowl next month. But none of those teams are the Seahawks. And despite playing in the Pro-Bowl (the NFL’s equivalent of the All-Star Game), the current most famous NFL-MLB player, Seattle’s star quarterback Russell Wilson, is preparing for his stint at Spring Training again. He made a big splash with the fans last year with his single at-bat (and strikeout) and is set for six days in camp with hopefully a better game performance.

Next month, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Boone will bring their star power to the annual Thurmon Munson Awards dinner. The three are being recognized for their philanthropy and active community involvement, in the spirit of the dinner’s namesake. Former Yankee Darryl Strawberry will also be on hand to present an award, and other sports stars and executives are being honored for their life of giving.

And finally, Yankees icon Mel Stottlemyre lost his battle with bone marrow cancer yesterday. The former pitching coach helped guide the 1986 Mets to their championship before being a critical part of the last Yankees dynasty, coaching legends like Pettitte and Rivera, spending a decade with each team.

Initially diagnosed in 2000, the cancer went into remission following intensive treatments before returning in 2011. The Yankees eventually honored him in a surprise presentation with a plaque in Monument Park in 2015 on Old Timers’ Day, surrounded by fellow legends. Our hearts go out to all of his loved ones, especially his wife Jean and their sons Todd and Mel.

Go Yankees!

Missed awards, a new face, and Yankee alumni up for the Hall

Last week, the majority of the postseason awards were handed out for what some people consider the best of this year’s players and managers. Privately, I will make my selections, even if they’re not Yankees, and then I watch to see how my view of the season matches those with a vote. It was certainly a mixed bag for results once again.

Unfortunately, the Yankees walked away from 2018 with no awards. In one category, two Yankees held much of the conversation but ultimately were denied the hardware. The AL Rookie of the Year went to Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ pitcher-DH star originally from Japan. The Yankees’ own Miguel Andujar came in a solid 2nd place, with teammate Gleyber Torres a distant 3rd. Torres held much of the ROY conversation early in the year before Andujar suddenly emerged as the highlight of the Yankees’ roster on the field and in the batter’s box. He certainly had my vote, or rather my support as I didn’t have a vote.

The Yankees also announced today a trade to help support their perpetually plagued starting rotation. In a deal with the Mariners, the Yankees acquired 30-year-old left hander James Paxton, who had a stellar 2018 but has been plagued by injuries in the past. The Yankees sent a trio of prospects to Seattle in the exchange — pitchers Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.

And today, the powers-that-be in Cooperstown announced 35 names that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will vote on this off-season. Each member has a ballot that they can select up to 10 players they believe deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Of course, some people submit empty ballots just so players don’t get 100% of the vote, some just vote for whatever team they write for, and some vote for really random people that don’t make any sense. But most of the members do use their votes wisely, and that’s why most of the people voted in deserve their Cooperstown plaque.

This year, headlining the ballot is Yankees’ legendary superstar Mariano Rivera. Almost assuredly a first-round selection, and he should be as close to 100% in the Hall as possible (though everyone expects someone to use their ballot to keep him from 100%). Another famed Yankee on the ballot this year is Andy Pettitte, and while many of us in Yankee Universe certainly believe he deserves the nod, his minor brush with PED usage following an injury may keep him out.

Other nominees this year include some recognizable names for Yankee fans, both in pinstripes and against them: Rick Ankiel, Jason Bay, Lance Berkman, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Travis Hafner, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, Darren Oliver, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Mariano Rivera, Miguel Tejada, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, and Michael Young. Joining this year’s first-timers are eligible former players who haven’t been completely shutout just yet: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker.

I’ve made my selections (though I don’t have a vote). Who’s on your list?

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!