Spring Game 18: ATL vs. NYY — Rough start + error-filled defense + overcast skies = Sunday Sorrows

I sat next to a Tigers’ fan at the game today. Not that they were playing in the same stadium we happened to be seated in (though they were playing at their Spring home just about 30 minutes east of us). But just because he wanted to see a ball game today. I listened to him chat with the man on his other side for most of the game, and they pretty much reminisced about the “good old days” (read: the late 1990s). Towards the end of the game, I just had to explain to them that if they’re judging this year’s Yankees by what they saw today, they’re sorely mistaken. They’re much better than whatever happened on the field, and the visiting Braves certainly aren’t that good.

A loss always allows observers (and participants) to become introspective. You start analyzing every angle, trying to figure out what went wrong and how a single alteration might have improved the outcome. And honestly, I’m not sure if I can pinpoint a single problem with today. It’s just a whole mess of problems that collaborated against the Yankees this muggy, overcast Sunday afternoon.

But I’m left with one question: can I get away with blaming Daylight Savings?

CC Sabathia probably had the worst day (though a few others weren’t that far behind him), getting his second start of the Spring. And after a show of “vintage-CC” last time, I think we were all excited about his outing. Until the 1st inning. The first batter hit into a single (though it was a close call at 1st) and then it all just fell apart. The next player reached on a force attempt thanks to a fielding error (#1). Then 2 consecutive singles scored the first 2 runs for the Braves, and a double scored 2 more. Another single and messy throw put runners in scoring position, and a sacrifice fly scored another run.

And that was Sabathia’s first out of the inning, which he followed up with a great strikeout. But then he struggled to get that 3rd out. A double scored yet another runner, and after giving up a walk, Sabathia’s day was done. I should note here that most of the allowed hits were because the fielders weren’t able to respond quickly and handle the plays that would normally be easy outs for the players on the field (most of them were starters or veterans). But Sabathia, in a post-game interview, took the bulk of the blame himself, as a veteran pitcher usually does. Sabathia, the perfectionist, had a rough day, but, like one reporter mentioned, he could have blamed the defense but chose to shoulder it himself.

Coming on in replacement with 2 runners already on base, Ben Heller closed out the 1st inning by getting a ground out at 2nd thanks to the quick reaction of shortstop Jorge Mateo. Heller went on through the 2nd inning and kept the Braves from adding to their big lead. Chapman and Shreve continued that momentum in the 3rd and 4th, and the defense was starting to really work together, getting 2 double plays (one in each inning), save another fielding error in the 4th (#2).

In the 5th, young reliever Camarena came in and got through that inning quickly, after a lead-off double, but then the defense struggled and under Camarena in the 6th. Two consecutive fielding errors (#3 & #4) and a single loaded the bases (and you could hear the collective groan in nearly 2/3 of the fans in the stadium). But while a sacrifice fly scored one unearned run, Camarena (and the defense) collaborated for a fly out and ground out to get out of the inning.

German pitched his way through the 7th and 8th inning, stopping the Braves from adding to their ever-increasing lead and getting 3 great strikeouts. But in the 9th, Ramirez found some trouble after 2 switch line outs. Two outs and two runners on base with singles, yet another fielding error (#5) allowed another runner to score, putting the remaining two runners on the corners. A big triple (almost an inside-the-park homer thanks to the speed of this player) scored 2 more runners. Even after a hit-by-pitch threatened another base runner, Ramirez dug deep and got a great strikeout to get out of the inning.

The Yankees weren’t exactly blessed in the offense department today. In fact, the Braves pitching staff and defense kept them hitless through 4 innings. It was like the Yankees hit balls directly to the infielders for either line drives or easy out plays. Today’s starting catcher Austin Romine was having a hard time watching the team struggle with what are usually easy plays in the field and getting the ball to him for the outs to make at home. Romine got his own form of revenge, in a way, by getting the Yankees’ first hit in the 5th inning, a 1-out solo home run into the right field seats.

Jorge Mateo followed up that with one of his own to lead-off the 6th inning, a great shot in nearly the same spot for the fans hanging out there. The Yankees would only cobble together 4 total hits (and 2 walks off the Braves’ starter), while the Braves collected 14 hits and 3 walks (and 5 errors and a hit-by-pitch). Yeah, not a good day for the Yankees.

Final score: 10-2 Braves (to be fair, only 4 of those Braves’ runs were “earned”)

Player of the Game: Jorge Mateo. Easy choice today. In the first half of the game, Mateo was easily the best, most consistent infielder. His instincts and sharpness easily stood out in this sloppy defensive game. (Though it should be noted that Romine also did a great job behind the plate.) But then you add Mateo’s big home run in the 6th, his first of the Spring, and you remember why he’s been one to watch for the last two Springs. He’s really something else.

Meanwhile, the first round of cuts were made today, sending 11 pitchers and catchers to minor league camp to finish their Spring — pitchers Camarena, Feyereisen, Lail, Mantiply, Reeves, Rumbelow, Rutckyj, and Sheffield; and catchers Deglan, Diaz, and Saez. This still leaves 56 players in camp, but that count includes currently injured Tyler Austin and the six players representing various teams in the World Baseball Classic.

And speaking of the World Baseball Classic: it’s been quite the last 24 hours for the teams in the WBC. Last night, Venezuela eked out a win over Italy in the 10th inning, 11-10, Puerto Rico beat Mexico 9-4, and the USA fell to the team from the Dominican Republic 5-7. Overnight in Tokyo, Team Israel kept their winning streak alive by defeating Cuba 4-1, and the Netherlands fell to Japan 6-8. Today, the Dominican Republic ended up trouncing the Columbia team 10-3, by racking up 7 runs in the 11th inning alone, and Italy fell to Puerto Rico 3-9.

As I write this, Canada faces off with Team USA. Later tonight, Mexico will face Venezuela (10 pm EST), and the Netherlands will face Israel early tomorrow morning (6 am EST). While there are 6 current Yankees on teams all over this tournament, it’s kind of fun to keep an eye out for former Yankees (like David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Francisco Cervelli, Yangervis Solarte, and Martin Prado) and watching their impact on their national teams. I mean, once a Yankee… and all.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no video links today. Trust me, there’s not a lot about today’s game you really want to remember. Just savor in the beauty of Romine and Mateo’s great home runs in your imagination, forget the rest happened, and you’re good.}

All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!

Roster maneuvers & potential shiny hardware for the mantle… is it Spring yet?

It’s officially the off-season now. The Cubs have had their victory parade last week through the streets of Chicago, ending with a big party in downtown where the Cubs players, coaches, and executives celebrated with millions of Chicagoland faithful. And a big congratulations to them. (And no, I don’t think it’s going to take another 108 years for their next win.)

In the meantime, the Yankees have made some early off-season moves in preparation for whatever’s up Cashman’s sleeve this off-season. The Cubs claimed reliever Conor Mullee off waivers on Wednesday, and on Friday, the Yankees activated some of the injured players off the 60-day DL like infielder Dustin Ackley and pitchers Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow. They also selected the contracts of Kyle Higashioka and Domingo German to add to the roster.

Now, GM Cashman is looking to add to the roster for the 2017 season, but in one particular category — pitching. And if you look at the roster now filled with Baby Bombers like Judge, Austin, Bird, and Sanchez, the need for consistent pitching (starters and relievers) is really the biggest drought on the team. Following the 2017 season, many of the veterans’ contracts are up (including Cashman and Girardi and the entire coaching staff, I might add), which could mean a virtually brand new team in the next few years.

But all this should put you in a pretty good outlook for the next season. I was at Steinbrenner Field today and saw all the progress they’re making on the stadium. They’re building new patios and special loge seating, rebuilding the gift shop, redoing the main entrance and bridge from the parking lot, and (most importantly) installing new seats. (Yankee Stadium is also getting a bit of a face lift, but more on that in a later post.)

Today, the Yankees released their tentative Spring Training schedule, with the opening day on Friday, February 24 against the Phillies, an afternoon home game. There are 35 scheduled games, 17 home games, and an exhibition game against Team Canada (March 8). They will close out their Spring in Atlanta with an exhibition game to inaugurate the Braves’ new park (SunTrust Park) on March 31. (The Yankees will play their season opener April 2 at the Rays, and home opener April 10 against the Rays.)

Mark your calendars: Pitchers and catchers report February 13, with their first workout February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day, Yankee Universe!). Position players report February 18, with the first full-squad work out scheduled February 19.

It should also be noted that the World Baseball Classic is also scheduled this March (March 6-22). This means that instead of Spring Training, many of the players will be spread all over the world with their home country to try to bring home the honor, like the Dominican Republic did in 2013. Host cities include Seoul, Tokyo, Miami (Marlins), Jalisco (Mexico), San Diego (Padres), and Los Angeles (Dodgers). After qualifying rounds this year, the competing countries in the WBC will be South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Israel, Japan, Cuba, China, Australia, USA, Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Italy.

And the biggest news of the day is that Gary Sanchez is up for a pretty big award. In addition to being up for the online eSurance (voting ends November 11) Rookie of the Year award (joining Teixeira for some pretty great moments this season), Sanchez is also up for the BBWAA Rookie of the Year Award. The BBWAA are responsible for selecting, nominating, and awarding several important honors every year in addition to the Rookie of the Year including MVP, Cy Young, and Manager of the Year. They also define who’s gets into the Hall of Fame.

Sanchez is up against the Indians’ outfielder Tyler Naquin and Tigers’ reliever Michael Fulmer for the AL Rookie of the Year. In the NL, the nominees in the same category are Maeda (Dodgers), Turner (Nationals), and Seager (Dodgers). Winner in both leagues will be announced next week on November 14. And yes, I do think that Sanchez deserves the AL honor, even without my own Yankee bias in there. Seriously, Sanchez took the entire league by storm this season, and just changed the landscape for the Yankees in the latter part of the year, keeping postseason dreams alive right up until the end. (By the way, my vote would be Seager for the NL, if I actually had a vote that is.)

Other nominees: Manager of the Year (awarded November 15) — Banister (Rangers), Francona (Indians), Showalter (Orioles), Baker (Nationals), Maddon (Cubs), and Roberts (Dodgers); Cy Young (awarded November 16) — Kluber (Indians), Porcello (Red Sox), Verlander (Tigers), Hendricks (Cubs), Lester (Cubs), and Scherzer (Nationals); and MVP (awarded November 17) — Altuve (Astros), Betts (Red Sox), Trout (Angels), Bryant (Cubs), Murphy (Nationals), and Seager (Dodgers). (If you must know, these are all rather deserving men, but my choices are Francona and Maddon, Kluber and Hendricks, Betts and Bryant. But they don’t ask me.)

Anyway, we’re knee-deep in this off-season, almost shoulder-deep in awards season, and it’s a little exciting to think about what 2017 could hold. Spring Training is just over 3 months away, and it’s when the slate is wiped clean and anything is possible. And it’s the one time when everyone is on that even playing field. We didn’t know the Cubs would be world champions this time last year, and we don’t know who will be celebrating this time next year. Fingers crossed it will be certain pinstriped crew from the Bronx.

Maybe cross the toes too…

Go Yankees!

Game 133: NYY vs. BAL — Not so charming shutout

So, tonight was not pretty to watch at all. The Yankees traveled to Baltimore on their travel day yesterday for the weekend series there. And tonight, the Orioles used whatever magic they have at Camden Yards to force the Yankees into their worst loss in Baltimore since Camden Yards was built (1992).

Chad Green got the start tonight and got into trouble right from the start. He loaded the bases in the 1st inning with 2 outs before getting out of the jam with a nice strikeout. But then his trouble continued into the 2nd inning. A 1-out double scored on a 2-out single, and then a 2-run home run to add to the Orioles’ score. After walking the next batter with his 54th pitch, Green didn’t take the mound again. He signaled for the trainer and came out of the game with right elbow soreness. That is never a good thing.

Nick Goody came on to replace him and promptly gave up consecutive home runs to put the Orioles way ahead. But then Goody found his way to keep the O’s off the scoreboard in the 3rd. Kirby Yates had a spot of trouble in the 4th, giving up a walk and a 2-run home run to start the inning. But then Yates kept the O’s off the bases through the 5th inning.

Jonathan Holder made his MLB debut in the 6th and sailed through the inning in just 16 pitches, with a nice strikeout.His dad and brother drove up from Mississippi to watch his debut, and they certainly had something to be proud of tonight. Severino and Parker kept that momentum going by keeping the Orioles scoreless through the 7th and 8th innings, respectively.

The Yankees just couldn’t break through the Orioles pitching much at all. They only got 2 hits and 4 walks off the starter in his 6 innings, but nothing they could combine together for any runs. Yes, the Yankees were very much shut out of the game tonight.

Final score: 8-0 Orioles.

September Call-ups: Welcome to September Baseball! Before the game, the Yankees recalled Rob Refsnyder, Nick Goody, Luis Severino, and Kirby Yates. They also selected recently signed outfielder Eric Young Jr. and pitcher Jonathan Holder, who contributed to tonight’s game. To make some room on the roster, the Yankees reinstated Nick Rumbelow from the 7-day DL, recalled him from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and then placed him on the 60-day DL due to his Tommy John surgery earlier this year.

Injury Update: At Wednesday’s game, Aaron Hicks came up limping with a sore hamstring. The doctors in Baltimore saw Hicks, and after some tests, Hicks was diagnosed with a grade 2 strain of his hamstring. Because the rosters are expanded, he won’t be placed on the DL and is expected back “soon”.

Green’s fate is still to be determined, but there are a handful of AAA pitchers that could be in consideration should Green’s injury be something more serious, including the recently returned Bryan Mitchell.

Go Yankees!

Game 6: NYY vs. TOR — Real turf makes Headley & McCann really good at their jobs

The Yankees don’t usually under the dome of Rogers Centre. I’ve always chalked it up to the awful turf (mixed in with some “passionate” fans). So this year, the Blue Jays did the smart thing and put in real dirt on their field, and suddenly, the Yankees take the first game of this midweek series. Yes, I’m thinking the turf thing may have been the reason all along. (Let me live in my fantasy world.)

Anyway, the snow preceded the team when they landed in Toronto a couple days ago after the postponement of their final game in Detroit. Maybe it was the weather, but they can’t blame it on hockey this year. Oddly, Canadians have no team in their postseason this year, which begins tomorrow night. But Rogers Centre featured a lot of empty blue seats tonight, as it was only about half-full (my mixed analogy means I’m an optimistic cynic, by the way). And for some reason this allowed fans with too much time on their hands (and perhaps too much of that Canadian beer) to be too “passionate” with their hands in a few other people’s faces in the 3rd base line seats before being escorted out by some “unpassionate” security officers.

Oh, and the Yankees were in town to actually play a game and test out the new dirt and field with Masahiro Tanaka to start tonight’s game. Tanaka only went 5 innings once again, giving up 3 hits and a whopping 4 walks. But he still managed to keep the Blue Jays to minimal scoring (just 2 runs), getting out of several tight jams between his 6 strike outs and some freakishly amazing defense (led in particular tonight by Chase Headley). In fact, the only hits and runs the entire night for the Blue Jays were off Tanaka.

The runs came in one fell swoop in the 3rd, Tanaka put 2 runners on base with no outs with a hit-by-pitch and a single. Both scored on a solid RBI double. A strikeout, a walk later, and a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild later, Tanaka gets out of the inning with a beautiful ball hit into a near-textbook perfect double play.

In the mean time, the Yankees offense struck first in the 2nd inning. Brian McCann led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on Beltran’s ground out, was joined on the base paths with Headley’s walk, advanced (with Headley) on a bad throwing error on a pick-off attempt (really, Toronto? McCann’s the slowest guy on the team), and then scored on Starlin Castro’s ground out.

Then it was Brian McCann again to tie up the game in the 6th with a big 2-out solo home run. (Statistic alert: McCann has scored 10 total runs for the Yankees this year already; no other player has scored more than 5.)

So, with Tanaka out and the game tied, the Yankees turned to Johnny Barbato, who is turning into one of those super smart Spring selections. He breezed through his 6th inning in 16 pitches, walking one batter but getting the 3 outs needed with no further trouble.

At the top of the next inning, the Yankees decided to make a push for the win with Headley’s lead-off single and Castro’s walk. Both runners were moved into scoring position with Gregorius’ sacrifice bunt, but only Headley would score on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single when another pitching change ended their attempt for an insurance run.

Trusty reliever Shreve came on for a couple outs in the 7th and gave up the odd walk (are you seeing an odd trend too?) before being replaced by Betances to finish up the 7th and breeze through the 8th, adding 3 more strikeouts to his (and the game’s) total. And then it was “Miller time” (yes, the beer jokes during his innings still plague my news feed, who earned his 2nd save of the season with a quick 12-pitch 9th inning, adding 2 more strike outs.

There were 10 total walks issued (6 by Yankees pitchers), and 20 total strikeouts (11 by Yankees pitchers). The biggest difference between the pitching staffs in the end was that the Yankees got 7 hits off the Toronto staff, where the Blue Jays only got 3.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees.

News from the farm: Nick Rumbelow was pulled from AAA lineup over the weekend and sent to the doctor for tests. Since then, the Yankees determined the young reliever will need to undergo Tommy John surgery. The surgery will be performed Friday at New York Presbyterian by the Yankees team doctor Dr. Ahmad. General recovery time from Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months, thus ending his 2016 season and dipping into the 2017 season for Rumbelow. See you in 2017!

Also, McCann took a foul ball off his toe (and still hit a home run in this game), and the Yankees sent him for tests as a precaution. After a flouroscope (an x-ray type test) came back negative, he was diagnosed with a bruise, a diagnosis that McCann and the Yankees were much more comfortable with. (Okay, and that’s it for scary injuries please!)

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 24: NYY vs. TOR — Mitchell’s showcase & Refsnyder’s face (day 2)

So, a Happy Birthday to Rob Refsnyder, who took a grounder off his face at 3rd base today for the second day in a row late in the game (the 8th inning today). Not exactly how he expected to celebrate his 25th birthday, I imagine, but hopefully, with some ice and some rest, the day can end a bit better than this “lowlight” from this afternoon for him.

The Yankees traveled across Tampa Bay to Dunedin to face the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (Boaty McBoatface is a better name in comparison, by the way). While the Blue Jays have been fairly successful in Spring Training, since winnowing down their team (like everyone is doing with a little over a week left of March), they haven’t seen that success continue much recently. This, of course, works out well for the Yankees today.

Right off the bat (pun intended… now), lead-off batter Aaron Hicks smacked a solo home run right up the middle by the scoreboard to get the Yankees on the board quickly. And thanks to some ridiculously amazing pitching by starter Bryan Mitchell, the Yankees defended that lone run lead for the first half of the game. Mitchell is becoming a strong contender for some long-term relief in the bullpen, with today’s game being the cherry on top of a fantastic Spring for him (a 0.74 ERA going into today’s game, a 0.61 ERA by the end of his 4 scoreless innings). Today, he gave up just 1 hit and struck out 4 Toronto batters.

But the Yankees found that slip away some with the change of pitching in the 5th inning. Swarzak’s 5th inning tied up the game with consecutive doubles. A single moved the runner to 3rd and a sac fly scored him to give the Blue Jays a slight edge over the Yankees.

For all of like 8 minutes.

At the top of the next inning, Puello led-off with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on Beltran’s single, and scored on Alex Rodriguez’s nice single to re-tie up the game. When Teixeira reached base on a dancing fielder’s choice, Beltran’s pinch-runner Silva scored to give the Yankees back the edge.

For all of like 20 minutes.

Swarzak had a much better 6th inning, getting a nice quick three outs. Then it was onto Moreno for the 7th who gave up a 1-out double that scored on a 2-out double to tie up the game once again. So it was onto Pinder, who despite giving up a hit and a walk, still managed to get out of the 8th inning unscathed (and by luck of the bat, earn the win today). In the 9th, Romero on 1st with a walk and 1 out, the Blue Jays attempted a pick-off as he went for 2nd, but the catcher’s throw was off and Romero made it safely to 2nd. And as it turns out, the catcher, perhaps a little rattled by that throwing error, then missed a catch which allowed the young prospect to run the 90 feet home and give the Yankees the 1-run lead.

The Yankees clung to that lead under reliever Mullee to finish off the 9th inning with 3 nice strike outs for the save. In total, Yankees pitchers got 11 strikeouts from the Blue Jay batters (to compare: Yankee batters got just 2).

Final score: 4-3 Yankees.

Roster update: Before the game, the Yankees announced they were optioning relievers Pazos and Rumbelow to AAA Scranton and reassigning them to minor league camp. The response is mixed as Pazos has done an excellent job this Spring and Rumbelow, well, hasn’t. Also, just after the game, Chris Parmelee was reassigned to minor league camp. Truth be told, Parmelee gets to be the 1st baseman in Scranton this season all because Bird is recovering for his shoulder surgery this year.

But like I’ve said before, just because they’re not making Opening Day roster doesn’t mean they won’t be playing in the Bronx this season. If they do well in Scranton, that “Scranton Shuttle” we saw so much of last year due to injuries will feature many of these familiar faces.

Not really a “one to watch” today in my Spring parameters. Honestly, as the Yankees whittle down their Spring roster in preparation for April 4, the prospects become less and less as the other spots under competition become something to witness. Like Mitchell’s near flawless outing today. Seriously, he’s been flying under the radar for awhile, but he’s really showing why the Yankees picked him up in the first place. He’s consistent and on-point and not afraid to just go for it.

You know, one thing I notice with some of the younger pitchers is that they let the pressure of the game get to them, feeling like it’s all up to them to make sure the runners don’t get on base. So they often then pitch around the strike zone and end up walking batters or hitting them or throwing wild pitches. But here’s the thing: if you want to get the outs, you have to throw strikes. You have to trust that your defense will be there to field the grounders, catch the fly balls, and make the plays they need to make to help the team get the necessary 3 outs each half-inning. When they remember to throw strikes and trust their defense, they get guys out with strike outs like it’s second-nature (with a handful of grounders and fly balls for the other 7 guys behind them).

I think that’s the lesson many of these guys need to learn and remember every Spring (even the old veteran ones) — you play a team sport. Trust your teammates to do their jobs while you do yours. Baseball is a team sport, which means that the team statistics matter more than the individual. Trust goes a long way to building a team. And it’s teams that win championships.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 23: NYY vs. BAL — A shelf cloud, 6 home runs, an extra inning loss

Okay, so 2 of the games played in the Grapefruit League were cancelling today on account of a giant storm system that came over the area today, leaving streets flooded and filled with debris like downed tree branches. Had the game been in Tampa, it would’ve been the third game cancelled. But Sarasota (where the Orioles are), just about an hour south, didn’t get that heavy of a storm, but they certainly got a great view as the shelf cloud made its way through the area just north of them.

And the only way to relate this game is do this chronologically. The 1st inning looked promising for both teams — 6-up, 6-down rather quickly. Yankees’ starter Ivan Nova was looking good on the mound too. But then the back-and-forth started in the 2nd inning, and neither team came out all that clean (both offensively and defensively). With Ackley and Parmelee on base with walks and 2 outs, Chris Denorfia smacked a big 3-run home run up the middle to put the Yankees on the board with a splash. The Orioles answered back with a 1-out solo home run of their own off Nova in the bottom of that inning.

In the 3rd, Brett Gardner led-off with a perfect bunt single, followed up by Gregorius’ double to put them in scoring position. Starlin Castro’s sac fly then scored Gardner, and Chase Headley’s single scored Ackley to increase the Yankees lead. But the Orioles weren’t going away quietly with a 2-run home run off Nova in the bottom of that inning. And the O’s continued to play catch up with another 2-run home run in the 4th, and a 2-out RBI single in the 5th. That ended Nova’s messy outing there with some forgettable statistics that won’t help him in that contest to be the 5th starter this season — 5 allowed hits, 6 runs scored (only 5 earned), and 3 walks over his 4.2 innings.

The Yankees called on reliever Johnny Barbato to close out the 5th and carry the 6th inning, something he did with perfection — getting 4 straight outs. Actually, the 6th inning was another 6-up, 6-down inning. The only innings this game when a run did not score were the 1st and 6th innings. Yeah, it was that kind of game.

Anyway, with the score sitting at 6-5 Orioles into the 7th inning, the Yankees had their own catching up to do. So Puello led-off the inning with a double and then scored on Gardner’s nice triple (seriously, Gardner played an amazing game today). Ben Gamel came in to pinch run for Gardner as he was the last starter to be replaced at that point. Gamel then scored on Torreyes’ 1-out single to give the Yankees a 1-run lead. But the Orioles’ played their home run card once again to tie up the game off reliever Nick Goody, who was virtually flawless except that perfect home run pitch.

With runners on the corners and 1 out in the 8th, Gamel’s ground out scored a run for the Yankees to push them ahead again. A lead they held onto through reliever James Pazos’ perfect 8th inning. Nick Rumbelow came on for the 9th inning in hopes of getting those 3 outs and the win. But a beautiful solo home run (yes, another one) tied the game back again and would send the game into the 10th inning.

Okay, let me say that the worst inning by an Orioles’ pitcher was the 10th inning, and because of how statistics are awarded, he went home today with the win. The Yankees led-off the 10th with a double, an RBI single, another single, and another single to load up the bases (all with no outs, by the way). Things were looking promising as Pete Kozma stepped up to bat. Kozma unfortunately hit into a double play, but the insurance run scored. And by the mid-10th, the Yankees were ahead by 2 runs. Once again, they just needed 3 quick outs.

But it was not to be. Matt Tracy on the mound for the Yankees and 2 runners on base after a couple of errors by 3rd baseman Refsnyder. Refsnyder came out of the game at that point, after taking a grounder to the face (and needing some ice and a bandaid, but nothing more, thank goodness!). A walk loaded the bases (still no outs), and then a single scored a run keeping those bases loaded. But another single and 2 runs scored and the Orioles got their walk-off win today.

Some statistics to wrap your head around: 15 Orioles’ hits (9 by Yankees batters), 12 total walks, 15 total strikeouts, and 6 total home runs (5 by Orioles’ batters). To be fair, the Orioles won today’s games on the backs of those home runs.

Final score: 11-10 Orioles, in 10 innings.

I wish I could say there was a “one-to-watch”, but today’s game was rather messy. So I’m going to throw in relievers Johnny Barbato and James Pazos as having flawless outings and deserving some credit for keeping the score a 1-run game.

Go Yankees!