Spring Game 21: TOR vs. NYY — The Saturday hit parade

For the second afternoon in a row, the Yankees turned the hot, humid weather into a sort of springboard for dominating their visiting opponent in Tampa. Early on, the home team hosted a continued batting practice under the guise of a Spring Training game, with the Blue Jays even getting in on the fun and action today. And fans were just there for the show.

The Yankees kicked things off in the 1st, with Aaron Judge’s big 1-out solo home run, the first home run and hit of a 9 home run and 29 hit day, overall. Then, Bird worked a 2-out walk and scored with Gleyber Torres’ 2-run home run to give the Yankees an early lead.

JA Happ got the start for the Yankees. Despite a good 1st inning, he had a bit of trouble in the 2nd. A lead-off single scored as part of a 2-run home run to get the Blue Jays on the board. Two outs later, a solo home run helped push the Jays into a tie.

So, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 2nd to retake their lead. With 1 out, Wade doubled, and Gio Urshela smacked a 2-run home run to break the tie. Gardner then singled, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s 2-out single. In the 4th, with 1 out and Florial on base with a single, pinch-hitter Jorge Saez hit a solid 2-run home run to keep the runs rolling in.

After Britton and Chapman sailed their way through the 4th and 5th innings, Tommy Kahnle’s 1st pitch in the 6th became a Blue Jays’ solo home run. But he got right back on track and shut them down in 3 quick outs.

The Yankees answered back in the 6th. Estevan Florial led-off with a walk, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Matt Lipka’s single. Lipka moved to 2nd on Wagner’s single and scored on Thairo Estrada’s double. Clint Frazier fought through a good at-bat only to hit a 2-RBI triple. And in the 7th, Urshela led-off with a double, and his pinch-runner later scored on Matt Lipka’s big 2-run home run.

Minor league reliever Phillip Diehl had a great 7th inning but found trouble in the 8th. He loaded up the bases with a double, a single, and a walk, with no outs. A sacrifice fly scored the lead run, and with that out, the Yankees went to Weissert for pitching relief. After a strong strikeout, a strong 2-RBI triple edged the Blue Jays a bit closer to the Yankees’ lead.

Thairo Estrada then led-off the 8th with a ridiculously speedy triple (a double for most people) and scored on Francisco Diaz’s single. Zack Zehner hit a big 2-run home run to cap off the runs this afternoon. The Yankees sent reliever Jonathan Holder in to close out the game with a scoreless 9th.

Final score: 17-7 Yankees

One to Watch: Today, I opted for two honorees. Gio Urshela dominated the first half of the game once again with his contributions at the plate and his outstanding defense, starting at 3rd base. And in the latter half of the game, Matt Lipka’s bat was hot today, going 2-for-2, with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored.

Next up: the Yankees have a split squad day tomorrow afternoon. But in a weird scheduling twist, both games are actually being played away. One squad will travel to visit the Orioles in Sarasota (about an hour south), and the other across the Bay to Clearwater to see the Phillies (about 25 minutes west).

Unfortunately, there is some injury news. In the top of the 8th, outfielder Estevan Florial slammed into the center field fence trying to negotiate between the sun and a fly ball. (The fence won.) He was pinch-hit on his next at-bat and sent to precautionary x-rays, which came back with non-displaced right wrist fracture. In other words, his Spring is done and will probably start back with Advanced-A Tampa as part of his rehab and recovery once he is healed.

And Luis Severino is still dealing with his inflamed shoulder, and due to his slow recovery process this Spring, it looks like he will miss regular season games through April. Aaron Hicks’ back should be healed and ready to go by Opening Day, but he will have no Spring warm-up. So he could take a few sim games or minor league games (or about a week) before rejoining the regular team.

With two key players out, even for a week in Hicks’ case, that could mean a brief promotion for some Yankee players. So as they continue to hone their roster, it will be interesting to see who winds up as part of the 25-men set to play Opening Day.

One player in Yankee Universe that won’t be part of that line-up is Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is technically part of the Yankee farm system and was in camp these last two days, connecting with friends like Judge and working out with his fellow athletes. Unlike last year, Wilson didn’t get any play time in either of these last two big games, watching his teammates haul in big victories from the dugout. Maybe that’s why the scores looked more like the NFL than MLB — blame Wilson.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 19: NYY vs. TOR — Once again… another day, another draw

In addition to missing the ready available video highlights (and even being able to watch games I don’t attend in person), I’m starting to miss games where there’s a legitimate winner. And this is saying a lot as someone who also follows professional soccer (where most regular season games can end in a draw) and as someone who repeatedly reminds readers that these Spring games “don’t count” for anything but a big warm-up for the big guys and a month-long audition for the younger ones.

But it’s another beautiful Florida day as the Yankees trekked across Tampa Bay to visit the Blue Jays’ Spring home in Dunedin (about 20 miles or 40 minutes west of Tampa). Luis Cessa was dominant in his 4 innings this afternoon, setting a good pace that was matched mostly by the rest of the Yankee pitchers, but also by the Blue Jays. In fact, Yankee pitchers held off the home team until the 7th inning. Coulombe gave up a 1-out double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single.

So, the Yankees’ offense actually held the lead for most of the game, getting on the board in the 4th. Gleyber Torres led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd on Troy Tulowitzki’s single. Miguel Andujar hit into a ground out, but Torres was able to score the Yankees’ lone run of the day. After the Blue Jays tied things up, neither team was able to crack their opponents’ strong pitching today.

Final score: 1-1 tie

Next up: The Big Game of the Spring — the Yankees will host the Red Sox. Of course, they’ve already played each other to open the Spring, but this time, they’re in Tampa. It’s sure to be a good game as usual and hopefully not another tie.

Some interesting news came out from MLB headquarters. They released some new rules to that will be implemented in 2019 and 2020. Coming this year will include changes to the fan voting for the All-Star Game (a graduated process), how much money the winner of the Home Run Derby makes (from $525,000 to $1,000,000), tightening the pace of play with shorter inning breaks, reduction of mound visits during a game, and trade deadline and waivers.

Next season will see the biggest changes. Rosters will increase to 26 regular players, which will “expand” to 28 in September, effectively eliminating the big “September Call-ups”. Other changes include further clarification of the roster, an increase of minimum days on the Disabled List, and a minimum number of batters a single pitcher must face (save injury or end of inning).

Yes, I have some opinions, but I’ll reserve them until we see them in play on a regular basis to see if they legitimately help improve the game or just hamper with unnecessary regulations. The changes to the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby won’t hit until the summer, but the more immediate changes to increase the pace of play (inning breaks and mound visits) seem more likely to aid the game than hinder it.

We’ll see it all in action shortly. So I’ll save my judgments until then.

And while it’s a beautiful day in Florida, our hearts are with those facing the messy snow storm in the middle of the country. Summer is coming. I promise. Take evidence in the fact that baseball season is already underway, and the “boys of summer” are itching to play in all those outdoor stadiums currently buried under feet of snow and battered by high winds. Stay safe.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No broadcast, no video to include. It was a slow day for highlights anyway.}

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: 7-1 Yankees

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

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

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

Final score: 5-2 Blue Jays

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

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

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 3: TOR vs. NYY — Pitching strong to 1-hit Opening Day win

A rather perfect day greeted the Yankees for their Spring home opener — blue skies, sunny, a bit breezy at times to reduce the potential heat, standard Opening Day pomp and circumstance, fans to pack the stadium, and an inconsistent opponent with the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. Add in a pretty well-played game, and it was the perfect set-up for a glimpse of what could be this season.

Actually, the unsung stars of this afternoon’s game were the pitching staff, who collectively only gave up 1 hit and 2 walks and kept the game pace brisk to just 2 hours and 22 minutes. James Paxton got to show off his stuff to the Yankee audience during his 2 innings, handing things over to Domingo German, Luis Cessa, Green, Diehl, and Jonathan Holder. Cessa, in particular, was outstanding, breezing his way through 6 outs and potentially making a campaign to be back with the big boys after a really rough season last year.

The Yankee hitters certainly weren’t shy about getting themselves on base, racking up 8 total hits and 3 walks off Blue Jays’ batters. But the hits that mattered most were the lead-off hits in the first two innings. Troy Tulowitzki, the player who grew up wishing to be a Yankee, earned his pinstripes when he took the 2nd pitch of the game and hooked it just left of the right field foul pole for a great solo home run. It’s especially sweet for Tulowitzki because it was against the team that gave up on him when he was battling injuries for the last 18 months.

Then in the 2nd, Kyle Higashioka led-off with a huge solo home run deep into the left field concourse. Of course, it came just as I was having a discussion that he needed to really kick up his bat if he wanted to be more of a stronger contender for the back-up catcher’s job. This “jinx” didn’t work at his next at-bat, by the way.

Once the Yankees had cycled through all their players, it was time for the minor league guys to shine. And they did. In the 6th, Ryan McBroom led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on Zehner’s single, and both moved into scoring position on a ground out. Another grounder scored McBroom to cap off the Yankees’ scoring today.

Final score: 3-0 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees will host the Phillies tomorrow afternoon.

Okay, as is tradition these last few years, I’ll continue to highlight a “One to Watch” after every home game. This player is from the farm system, and their contributions to the game that day make them something to keep an eye on. Some of my previous selections are currently on major league rosters, some are now retired or have moved on to other career avenues, and some are still trying to make their mark on the league.

Today’s One to Watch is Ryan McBroom. McBroom’s defense at 1st combined with his base running to score the Yankees’ 3rd run today made him stand out among his peers. McBroom also originally signed with the Blue Jays 5 years ago before they traded him to the Yankees in exchange for Rob Refsnyder. He spent last year bouncing between the Yankees’ AA and AAA teams, with a .310 batting average and 60 total RBIs.

In the Yankee Universe: the Yankees have decisively said that outfielder Aaron Hicks is “their guy” by signing him to a new 7-year, $70 million contract extension, which includes an option for 2026. Hicks certainly proved himself worthy last year, finding ease in the hole left by the injured Ellsbury and becoming a reliable power hitter and defender. And with this new deal, the Yankees make it clear they are not looking for other help in the outfield nor are they willing to part with Hicks.

And for all you long-time Yankee fans, Andy Pettitte is back. Sort of. Today, they announced that Pettitte now serves as special advisor to the GM to help with player development. Pettitte confessed that he actually refused an offer to join former teammate Jorge Posada, who recently accepted a similar role with Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins. No, Pettitte has been trying to get a job with the Yankees since he retired in 2013, as he’s clearly a Yankee through and through. It’s good to have him back and see him don the pinstripes once again, as he did with fellow alum like Jackson, Merrill, Randolph, and Martinez before today’s game.

Boy, it’s good to be back. And it’s better to be winning.

Go Yankees!

Game 149: TOR vs. NYY — Dropped victory in the 8th inning

The Yankees needed an easy win to move forward and enter this final two weeks on an upswing. And things were looking good for most of the game, with the Yankees on the board first and defending their early lead for this final game against the visiting Blue Jays this weekend.

In the bottom of the 1st inning, Andrew McCutchen led things off with a big solo home run.  Stanton then walked, moved to 3rd on Hicks’ single, and then scored on Didi Gregroius’ sacrifice fly. It wasn’t much, but it gave the Yankees enough of a lead to kick off the game.

Lance Lynn actually had a pretty good start. He threw 80 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up just 3 hits, a walk, and 1 run, and struck out 7 Toronto batters. In the 3rd, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on a double to get the Jays on the board. But Lynn, and then Robertson for 2 innings, kept the Jays down to that lone run, defending their slim lead.

But then Dellin Betances struggled his way through the 8th inning. A lead-off single moved to 3rd on a 1-out single and then scored on a single to tie up the game. A double scored another run to put the Blue Jays in the lead before a fielder’s choice became a great defensive show, getting their insurance run out at home in a rundown.

Britton’s 13-pitch 9th inning reset the game with hopes for a last-minute rally that would ultimately fall short.

Final score: 3-2 Blue Jays, Blue Jays win the series 2-1

Next up: The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow before a series against the Red Sox and then one against the Orioles to wrap up the final home stand. The Yankees hit the road for the final time with 4 games at the Rays and the final 3 games in Boston to end the season. Where the postseason lands is still very much up for grabs, especially as

The Yankees plan to call up pitchers Justus Sheffield and Domingo German to help with their upcoming series against the Red Sox, starting Tuesday. They might have been called up for today’s game, but they both pitched in the RailRiders’ final game yesterday, losing to the Rays’ AAA team and their bid for their league’s championship.

Go Yankees!

Game 148: TOR vs. NYY — Falling just short of a comeback

After yesterday’s wipe-out of the Blue Jays, the Yankees certainly continued the dramatics in the middle game of the weekend series. CC Sabathia got the start tonight and after a quick 3 outs in the 1st got roughed up for the rest of his brief outing this afternoon. He threw just 50 pitches into the 3rd, gave up 7 hits and 5 runs, and struck out only 2 batters.

In the 2nd, Sabathia gave up a lead-off solo homer on the 1st pitch to get the Blue Jays started. With 1 out, the next batter singled (as it was deemed after an overturned challenge), moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, then to 3rd on a single, and scored on another single. After another out, another single scored the lead runner for another Toronto run.

Then with 1 out in the 3rd, Sabathia gave up consecutive solo home runs to call an end to his afternoon. Chad Green was called on to replace him and started keeping things in check, holding the Blue Jays scoreless into the 5th inning. And Holder closed out the 5th and threw a solid 6th inning to keep the momentum going.

The Yankees, meanwhile, were also being held off, mostly by the Blue Jays’ starter, who only gave up 2 hits in his 5 innings and struck out 10 Yankee batters. It wasn’t until the 6th that they broke the Jays’ stranglehold on the scoreboard. Didi Gregorius led-off the 6th with a solo home run into the right field seats, making this his 2nd consecutive season with 25+ home runs. Then despite loading up the bases, the Yankees left them stranded again, failing to capitalize on these easy opportunities to chip away at the Jays’ lead.

Tommy Kahnle came on for the 7th inning and struggled his way through, loading up the bases. A great play by the defense got the lead runner out at home on a ground out. After a great strikeout, Kahnle gave up a 2-RBI single to expand the Jays’ lead. He turned things over to Stephen Tarpley, who gave up a single to score one more run.

The Yankees found one more big chance to make an impact in the bottom of the 7th. Giancarlo Stanton liked the 1st pitch he saw and sent it deep into the left field seats for his 34th home run of the season.. After a pitching change and 1 out, Didi Gregorius again smacked a solo home run to edge the Yankees closer.

Another out later, Torres doubled, Walker walked, and another new reliever walked Voit to load up the bases once again. This time, Miguel Andujar made the difference — a big grand slam to put the Yankees within a single run.

Betances and Britton each gave up a 9-pitch inning to close out the game, waiting for the Yankee batters to pull a last-minute comeback rally. It was not going to happen today.

Final score: 8-7 Blue Jays

Yankee Universe encompasses much of this nation, being “America’s Team”. But recently, one of their farm teams found themselves in the path of a major disaster. Yesterday, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the Carolina coastline. The Charleston River Dogs, the Yankees’ Single-A minor league team, finished their season earlier this month. But so many people are still under the hurricane’s destruction as it lingers and creeps itself up the coast.

David Robertson’s foundation, High Socks For Hope, has a history of helping with disaster relief, like after tornadoes, Hurricane Harvey in Texas last year, and other major disasters in the southeastern U.S. Today, they announced that they will be accepting monetary and practical donations to help, if you would like to be generous.

Our prayers are with those still under the thumb of the hurricane and in its path.

Go Yankees!

Game 147: TOR vs. NYY — Big home blowout + #TanakaTime

Sometimes, it’s good to be back in your own surroundings. The fans in the stands are in familiar regalia, the cheers makes sense with the plays, the smells and sounds are just right. It’s part of why people put a lot of stock in “home field advantage”. Not because there’s anything particularly “lucky” about your home turf, but because players are familiar with how things work and that surrounding familiarity knocks out distractions and helps them focus on the game. At least, that’s my theory.

Tonight’s game rather supported that. Especially when you throw in an opposing team that is really having a string of so-called “bad luck” recently. And Masahiro Tanaka was on point in tonight’s weekend opener against the Blue Jays. He threw 90 pitches in 6 scoreless innings, gave up 4 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 8 Toronto batters to earn his 12th win of the season.

Luis Cessa continued Tanaka’s great start with 3 scoreless innings of his own, adding 4 more strikeouts. And according to the rules, he earned the save for pitching those final 3 innings. (Statistics are rather complicated sometimes.)

The Yankee batters, meanwhile, had quite the field day in the Bronx. Every starting player got at least 1 hit, and every starter either scored a run or hit a run in, though most did both. The Blue Jays’ pitchers just couldn’t figure out how to pitch to the hot Yankee bats tonight.

In the 1st, McCutchen led-off with a double, and Stanton walked. Aaron Hicks’ single scored McCutchen, and a late throw allowed both runners to move into scoring position. After an out, Didi Gregorius hit an easy grounder that allowed Stanton to score, and Gleyber Torres’ single scored Hicks. After Sanchez singled to join Torres on base, Luke Voit hit both of them home with his double.

With a solid lead, the Yankee hits kept coming. In the 3rd, Gregorius was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Voit later worked a 2-out walk. Brett Gardner’s single scored Gregorius and signaled the end of Toronto’s starter’s night. The new reliever loaded up the bases with McCutchen’s walk before giving up a single to Giancarlo Stanton that scored both Voit and Gardner.

Andrew McCutchen led-off the 5th with a solo home run (his 1st homer in Yankee Stadium ever, by the way), and Didi Gregorius followed his example with a lead-off solo shot in the 8th. Then, with 1 out in the 8th, Sanchez doubled and was pinch-run by Higashioka. Voit reached on a fielding error, moving Higashioka to 3rd. Then Brett Gardner hit a long fly ball out to center that scored Higashioka, but they ended up catching Voit off 1st for a delayed double play to end the inning.

Final score: 11-0 Yankees

Roster moves: Good news, Yankee Universe! Today, they activated Aaron Judge from the Disabled List. His wrist’s chip fracture is healed to the point where he could come into tonight’s game late to run and play defense, but he’s not going to be hitting just yet. They want that 100% swing back without any residual pain from the power-hitter before they pencil him in the lineup. But take today’s activation as a good sign of progress.

And earlier today, the kids at PS 71 in the Bronx were treated to a fun surprise. The PitCCh In Foundation, founded by CC and Amber Sabathia, hosted a special event to celebrate the beginning of the school year. While CC was on “daddy duty”, Amber hosted Yankee stars Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks to have some fun with the local students (including a dance party with a live DJ) and hand out backpacks filled with school supplies to help the kids start the new year right, much like they did last week in California (where the Sabathias grew up).

Gregorius also considered today’s outreach as part of his #DidisDeeds, his random acts of kindness campaign wherever he is, including in Toronto in July. These guys are just amazing in how they represent the Yankee spirit of excellence and character on and off the field.

In that spirit, Sabathia is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, an annual award to honor those players who embody excellence and character on and off the field. You can vote for Sabathia and read more about all the other nominees and how they’re impacting their communities.

Go Yankees!