Game 33: KC vs. NYY — Former friends, now royal foes

The Yankees faced some old teammates tonight from the mound. The starter and first relief pitcher for the Royals in tonight’s final game of this series both played for the Yankees about a decade ago (2005/2007-2009) at the start of their MLB careers. This means only a couple of current roster guys were around to remember this.

Tonight’s Yankee starter Nathan Eovaldi was still playing on his high school baseball team in Texas a decade ago when those pitchers were starting out with the Yankees. But perhaps youth was in favor tonight in that respect as Eovaldi certainly outpitched both former Yankee (now Royals) pitchers. Eovaldi went through 5 innings, gave up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, striking out just 3 batters. But it wasn’t until the 4th inning the Royals really poked a hole through Eovaldi’s pitching. A 1-out solo home run got things started, followed up by a 2-out double that scored on a long RBI single. And another 2-out double scored on another RBI single in the 5th to give the Royals their grand total in runs tonight.

Eovaldi was followed in succession by a pretty amazing bullpen show in the form of Yates, Betances, Miller, and Shreve, each taking an inning to get right through that line up and keep the Royals putting up straight zeroes for the last half of the game.

The Yankees, on the other hand, got things started off on the right foot in the 1st inning with Starlin Castro’s 1-out solo home run to the right field seats. In the 2nd, Beltran led-off with a walk and then 2 outs later was hit in on Chase Headley’s monster 2-run home run to give the Yankees a nice healthy lead. Going into this game, Headley had been struggling all season and had yet to get an extra base hit. I think that mark is broken now as a home run most definitely counts for a few extra bases. (Actually, Headley did really well tonight, going 2-for-3, with a walk, 2 RBIs, and 2 runs scored.)

In the 4th, with 2 outs and Hicks at first, Didi Gregorius tacked on a couple more runs to the Yankees’ lead with his own 2-run home run. And the 7th certainly gave the Royals’ starter the most trouble, which was great for the Yankees. With 1 out and Headley and Romine on base, the Royals tried changing pitchers to that other former Yankee, but to no avail. Gardner’s walk loaded the bases and put the Yankees in the unenviable spot they’ve struggled with for the last month — runners in scoring position. But that’s okay. It’s not April anymore. Castro’s single scored Headley and then Brian McCann worked a 2-out walk to walk in Romine to seal the deal for the Yankees’ win tonight.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees, Yankees win series 3-1.

This is now the 2nd series the Yankees have won in a row. First, the rivalry, now the “reigning world champions”. Um, okay. Or maybe it’s just because they played better baseball than whatever uniform their opponents happen to wear that day. Now, that’s a theory I can get behind.

The Scranton Shuttle: The Yankees promoted reliever Tyler Olson today, optioning outfielder Ben Gamel back. And catcher Gary Sanchez may make his 2016 debut tomorrow, but no corresponding roster move seems to be forthcoming. Seeing as adding Sanchez makes 26 players, I expect we’ll hear something prior to tomorrow night’s game against the White Sox.

Today would’ve been Yogi Berra’s 91st birthday. The Yankees honored him tonight (in addition to their year-long celebration via the #8 patch on their sleeves) by recognizing the contributions and the last legacy Yogi left through his museum. If you’re ever in New Jersey, go check out the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.

Happy Birthday, Yogi!

Go Yankees!

Game 10: SEA vs. NYY — Beltran good, RISP not so much

Yes, that is where we must start with this middle game of the weekend series against the Mariners. The Yankees have no trouble getting guys on the base paths. The problem, however, lies in getting them to cross home plate. (RISP, by the way, is the stat that tells us how many times a team leaves “runners in scoring position”, or runners at 2nd and/or 3rd base.)

Offensively, it was all about Carlos Beltran today. With 1 out and Teixeira on base with a walk in the 3rd, Beltran’s nice double (the ball briefly wedged under the center field wall) scored Teixeira for the first run of the game. And in the 7th, he tagged on another run with a 1-out solo home run into section 103 (right field seats).

Actually, the Yankees collected 10 hits and 6 walks off the Mariner’s pitchers (most off the Mariner’s ace starter, who really didn’t pitch as well as he usually does, by the way). But again, all those numbers mean nothing if they don’t add up to runs, leaving 24 runners on the bases once again.

Now, on the pitching side of things, the Yankees backed CC Sabathia to start this afternoon’s game. Sabathia went 4.2 innings with his 95 pitches, giving up 7 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, and striking out 5 (a nice statistic for Sabathia these days). Nearly all of that damage was done in the 5th inning, Sabathia’s final inning. A lead-off solo home run tied up the game for the Mariners. Then a single moved to 2nd on a ground out and got tagged out on his way home on a single (nice defense, guys!). But then, the Mariners jumped ahead with an RBI single and an RBI double.

And with 95 pitches and a roughed up inning, Sabathia was out, and Johnny Barbato was in and promptly got a solid strikeout. Barbato flew through the 6th inning flawlessly before the steadfast 7-8-9 trio swept through the Mariners. Shreve got a couple of singles and still got out of the 7th in just 12 pitches, then Betances and Miller got all 6 of their outs with strikeouts (grand total of Yankee strikeouts today: 13).

But all those pretty number don’t mean wins in the end. It’s all about runs scored. It’s always about the runs scored.

Final score: 3-2 Mariners.

Tomorrow’s game should be interesting. Tanaka is scheduled to start and will face off against former teammate Iwakuma. The two helmed the starting rotation on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. And after today’s rather disappointing game, this does make for an interesting little bit of trivia to look forward to tomorrow.

Scranton Shuttle: Tyler Olson down, Branden Pinder up. Yeah, I still feel like I’m talking about a soccer/football in-game exchange. I hope these guys get miles for their travels.

Also, across the league, our thoughts and prayers go out to a few people in Florida. At the Rays-White Sox games last night, a female fan was struck in the face by a foul ball and had to be stretchered out of the stadium to a local hospital. The ball slipped through a previously unnoticed hole in the netting. The batter Souza of the Rays was so concerned for the woman, he went into the stands himself to see if she was okay. She was conscious and talking as EMTs escorted her from the field. Two other Rays players were injured in an on-field collision later in the game as well, but are just a little banged up.

And emergency prayers are with Mets’ pitcher Jacob deGrom. He was on standard paternal leave because his wife Stacey was giving birth to their son Jaxon in their hometown in central Florida on Monday, but there are unspecified complications. So the Mets granted him emergency family leave to be with his wife and son during this crucial time.

Go Yankees!

Game 9: SEA vs. NYY — #42 in hearts and on backs

Happy April 15th or in the baseball world… Happy Jackie Robinson Day! Around the league, every single player, coach, and manager donned a single number to honor the man who helped make both baseball and this country more reflective of the American culture. Before Rosa Parks just wanted to rest her feet, before Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, before the Acts and Amendments changed history and validated humans as equals regardless of skin color, athletes were breaking boundaries and making the world stand up and take notice — Jessie Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson — these few stood for the many who were so spectacular at their chosen field that the world could no longer ignore their existence and paved the way for the larger Civil Rights movement that fought for total equality.

And it wasn’t just a black and white issue. Robinson’s impact on baseball opened doors for other minorities previously ignored or excluded from participating — Jewish, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian players as well as players from across the globe (even from places like Australia and India). Baseball is played around the world by people of all nationalities and races, even by women (perhaps the next boundary to be broken) at the semi-professional level.

So everyone takes one day a year to honor the man for whom we wouldn’t have players like tonight’s starter Luis Severino (or Sabathia or Tanaka or Ellsbury or Gregorius or Beltran or Castro or a good majority of the Yankees roster). (Also, Commissioner Rob Manfred stopped by the Stadium tonight to discuss the impact of Robinson on baseball and America in general.)

The Yankees are back home tonight hosting the Mariners for the weekend. It’s the beginning of a 9-game (over 10 days) home stand.

Brett Gardner got the runs started tonight in the bottom of the 1st with a 1-out solo home run off the facade of the 2nd deck right field seats. Unfortunately, it was the start of the runs scored, and the only one to be scored all night by a Yankee. The Yankees had a bit of a problem (something that echoed of 2015) — getting guys on base but leaving them stranded there (24 total left stranded on the base paths).

But the Mariners didn’t seem to have that problem. At first, Severino kept the Mariners scoreless for the first third of the game, but then got himself into some trouble. In the 4th, a 1-out double scored on a solid single by a certain former Yankee (who still gets booed in the Bronx, by the way) to tie up the game. Then after a sloppy error, Gregorius made up for it by getting a rather snazzy unassisted double play to end the inning — a line drive and flip around to tag out said former Yankee.

In the 5th, a lead-off single made it possible for the Mariners to jump ahead quickly when the next batter hit a 2-run home run. And in the 6th, Severino really got into some trouble. With a lead-off walk and single, the next batter ground to 3rd, where Headley tagged out the lead runner in an almost fielder’s choice. Despite a big strikeout, a single scored a run and put runners on the corners. So that was it for Severino — 87 pitches into the 6th inning, 8 hits and a walk, with just 2 strikeouts (rather unusual for Severino overall).

And it was onto Kirby Yates for relief. He promptly walked his first batter to load up the bases before getting a much-needed strikeout. So Yates came back in the 7th inning, where his lead-off batter singled, stole 2nd, and moved to 3rd on a ground out. He was responsible for this runner when he handed the ball over to today’s call-up Tyler Olson (more below). Olson’s first batter hit a sacrifice fly that scored that runner, but Olson closed the door with a quick pop up.

Olson’s 8th and 9th also featured a similar pattern. A lead-off double in the 8th moved to 3rd on a ground out and scored on a 2-out single. And a 1-out walk in the 9th scored on a solid RBI double to close out the Mariners’ scoring.

When I look at the final line on both pitching staff, the thing that sticks out at me isn’t the 12 allowed hits by Yankee pitchers or the fact they only got the Mariners to strikeout 3 times all night. No, it’s that the Mariners’ pitching staff gave up 7 walks to the Yankees and none of those resulted in runs (thanks in part to the 10 collective strike outs).

Not that the Yankees will be looking forward to tomorrow’s game, as the Mariners’ ace (or “King”) is set to start tomorrow afternoon. Said King is always a problem for the Yankees’ batters. It’s going to be an interesting weekend.

Final score: 7-1 Mariners.

Fire up the Scranton Shuttle! The Yankees called reliever Tyler Olson up (and played him in tonight’s game) and sent reliever Luis Cessa down to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. When I think of this rather even exchange, I’m reminded of another sport that does such things within actual games — soccer (or football for you fellow Premier League fans). Within a single game, they do one play down and one player up to exchange a defender or midfielder for fresh legs. And like in baseball, sometimes that exchange works out well (like suddenly scoring the winning goal) and sometimes it doesn’t (they literally contribute nothing). It’s always a gamble.

But then that’s just part of the game. And a very good game at that.

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 30 & 31: STL vs. NYY & NYY vs. DET — Lots of home runs, by the other guys

Closing Day at Steinbrenner Field; split squad games; temperatures “feeling like” mid-90s under the blazing sunshine; and major moves, decisions, and injury updates. These are just a few of the things happening in Yankee Universe this Thursday afternoon.

For Game 1, the Cardinals made the trip up to visit the Yankees in Tampa in the last Spring Training home game. They faced Michael Pineda on the mound for a rather rough start for him today. Pineda went 5 innings, gave up 7 hits, no walks, and 6 runs, striking out 4 Cardinal batters. And this made the sea of red crammed into Steinbrenner Field super happy.

In the 2nd, the lead-off batter popped up a ball that McCann lost in the sun and missed the catch as it dropped behind him on the infield. When the batter realized McCann was going to drop it, he took off running to 1st, pushing McCann out of the way as Pineda grabbed the ball and threw down to get the out at 1st. But the runner was awarded the base due to “catcher’s inference“, which doesn’t really make sense as it wasn’t like McCann forced the ball to drop in the middle of the base path. And despite some arguing by Girardi, the sea of red was victorious. For all of two minutes as McCann promptly got the runner stealing second. A 1-out solo home run got the Cards on the board that inning.

They kept adding to their lead, starting in the 4th inning with back-to-back solo home runs, hit right up the middle. Then with 2 outs and 2 runners on base with singles, a long ball eked over the corner of the right field fence for a 3-run home run. And after a final strikeout, Pineda’s afternoon was done. An afternoon I’m sure he has mixed feelings about — as every run was off a home run from a ball perfectly placed in the strike zone.

Chapman’s 6th inning kept the Cards from adding to their ever-expanding lead with a quick 3-up, 3-down inning, with 2 just stellar strikeouts. The final one ended with the batter swinging at a fastball that hit 100 mph (or 99 mph on other radar guns).

But then things got messy again. Swarzak took the mound for the 7th inning, giving up 4 hits, a walk, and 3 runs for just 2 outs of the inning. A lead-off walk scored on a 1-out 2-run home run off the scoreboard. Then Swarzak allowed 2 singles and got another out. Another single scored another run and moved everyone up on a wide throw home from left field. Pinder came in to close out the inning quickly and gave an impressive 8th inning scoreless outing. Tracy, as well, showed off his reliever skills with a scoreless 9th inning.

The Yankees’ offense was stymied for most of the game, until the 8th inning. A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a strikeout-wild pitch-reached 1st safely kind of play by Headley. A 1-out walk loaded the bases before the lead runner scored on Lane Adams’ sacrifice fly. But the Yankees left 2 runners stranded and choked their rally attempt with a strikeout.

In total, the Yankees only got 4 hits and a walk all game, while they gave up 11 hits and 2 walks. Not exactly the best offensive day for the Yankees.

Final score in Game 1: 9-1 Cardinals

For split squad, the Yankees traveling team headed about 45 minutes eastward to Lakeland to the Tigers’ Spring Training facility. Chad Green got the start, and he also got roughed up by the Yankees’ opponents today giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 6 runs (5 earned), and striking out just 4 in just over 4 innings. A 2-out double in the 1st scored on a 2-run home run, and then the Tigers followed up with a solo home run to give the Tigers an early lead.

In the bottom of the 3rd, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on a fly out and a throwing error. And a lead-off solo home run in the 4th added yet another run to the Tigers’ score. They repeated that in the 5th, so that a walk and a strikeout later saw the end of Green’s less-than-stellar afternoon.

Tyler Webb came on in relief for Green and quickly got 2 outs to end the inning. He threw a near flawless 6th inning and went into the 7th inning with high hopes. Unfortunately, a lead-off triple scored on a sacrifice fly to mess up Webb’s outing. A double then scored on an RBI single, and a pop up gave Webb the out he needed before turning over the reins to Mullee. Mullee had less luck as he promptly gave up a 2-run home run to pad the Tigers’ lead further. But his 8th inning was scoreless, so there’s that.

Unlike the other game, the Yankees had a bit better luck against the Tigers’ pitching staff, garnering 12 total hits and 3 walks. In the 4th, Castro led-off with a single and scored on Austin Romine’s 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. Then in the 6th, the Yankees loaded the bases with singles and 2 outs. A wild pitch scored one run, and Chris Parmelee’s single scored Mateo. Then with the bases loaded again on a walk, the Yankees couldn’t capitalize on it and ground out to end their attempted rally.

In a last-ditch effort in the 9th inning, they loaded the bases up again with 1 out. Jorge Mateo’s single scored 2 runs. But once again, they couldn’t put things together to do more than that.

Final score in Game 2: 10-6 Tigers.

Fun random fact: in total there were 35 strikeouts between the 2 games (and 10 in each game to the Yankees).

And we have roster updates: the Yankees optioned Tyler Olson, Branden Pinder, and Nick Goody to AAA Scranton yesterday. And today, the Yankees reassigned Swarzak and Puello to minor league camp. Both Johnny Barbato and Luis Cessa got final bullpen spots, and Austin Romine was named the official back-up catcher.

Johnny Barbato was also named the Yankees’ outstanding rookie this year. Elected by the beat writers, the James P. Dawson Award was presented to Barbato before the game today, complete with a trophy and a nice watch. Barbato earned 2 saves, a 1.74 ERA, and 12 strikeouts in his 10 relief appearances (in 10.1 innings) this Spring.

Injury updates: okay, here’s the scoop on the 2 injured pitchers from yesterday’s game — Bryan Mitchell and Andrew Miller. Miller chipped a bone in his right hand (his non-throwing hand), and he will be seeing a specialist for further treatment. But he seems determined to pitch come Opening Day (should a closer be needed, that is) despite what common logic (and basic medical advice) might dictate.

Mitchell’s “sprained” toe was actually diagnosed with Grade 3 turf toe on his left big toe and a fracture of the sesamoid bone. Currently on crutches, Mitchell will see an orthopedic specialist in North Carolina (the same doctor who performed surgery on Jeter’s broken ankle in 2012) to see if surgery is necessary. But best estimates will have Mitchell on the DL for 3 months with recovery and rehab.

Now, with Mitchell off the roster with this DL stint, other relievers passed over for the job will now be in contention, but the most popular contender seems to be Kirby Yates. And that 5th starter’s job is still yet to be named, especially after Nova’s beautiful outing yesterday.

Plus, there’s still 2 more Spring games to play against the Marlins in Miami. So there’s still so much left to figure out before Monday. It’s going to be an interesting weekend to wrap up this pre-season.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 22: TB vs. NYY — An unusually messy 6th

Another evening of baseball at Steinbrenner Field. Another potential Spring thunderstorm that threatened but never quite materialized. Another popular “hometown” crowd. Another sell-out crowd. Another fireworks display following a loss.

But a much better CC Sabathia start tonight against the visiting Rays, despite him earning the loss and giving up a couple of runs. But hey, that’s what’s special about Spring — because nothing really matters except individual growth of the players and organizational growth as a team. So all those fancy numbers “they” like to splash around mean exactly what snow means to most Floridians — absolutely nothing.

Anyway, Sabathia had a much better start today, going 5 full innings, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out 4 Rays batters. One run came in the 1st inning — a 2-out solo home run at the base of the big score board in left-center field. The other run in the 2nd, when a lead-off double hustled home on an RBI single. A sweet double play happened later in that inning when Headley at 3rd snagged a nice line drive and got the runner at 2nd out when he doubled off the bag.

Sabathia then nearly cruised through the next three innings, keeping the Rays away from adding to their lead further. So he handed the ball over to prospect Tyler Olson, who has lately been rather a reliable resource in the prospective bullpen but seemed to just fall to pieces tonight. The 6th inning mess went like this: a really nice lead-off triple, a ground out that kept the runner at 3rd, a batter hit by a pitch (he’s okay), an RBI single, another hit-by-pitch (pinch-runner on board as he limps back to the dugout) that loaded the bases, a force out at 2nd that scored another run, a walk to load the bases, and a 2-RBI single to give the Rays a monster run-scoring inning and Olson the door to the clubhouse.

On came Kirby Yates, who’s been a cautious reliever this Spring and it’s cost him some outings. But tonight, he seemed to really go for it. He got the Yankees out of the 6th with a nice strikeout, and then pitched through the 7th getting another strikeout and keeping any Rays batters off the bases. Handing the ball over to Chasen Shreve is always a good idea, as it was tonight in the 8th inning. (Can we just say this guy is a solid bullpen guy already?) And Branden Pinder had a nice 9th inning outing, plowing through the Rays’ line up to close out the Yankees’ pitching for tonight.

The Yankees’ offense, on the other hand, wasn’t as sharp or even as messy as their pitchers were tonight. It was just kind of non-descript, save a couple of hits. Down 2-0 in the 2nd, McCann led off the inning with a double and then scored on Carlos Beltran’s RBI single. Then the minor league guys in the 7th made an attempt at reducing the runs deficit with Pete Kozma’s just beautiful 1-out triple which put him in the perfect position to score on a wild pitch.

Despite getting 8 hits and a walk, the Yankees’ offense didn’t compose more than that tonight. But tonight was strikeout heaven for both rotations — 9 strike outs by Yankees pitchers, 10 by the Rays. Basically, everyone was swinging at air tonight.

Final score: 6-2 Rays.

Roster update: The Yankees announced before the game tonight that catcher Gary Sanchez was optioned to AAA and reassigned to minor league camp. For those of you watching that back-up catcher race (between Sanchez and Austin Romine), that seems to solidify the Yankees’ choice for that role this year, though no one has come out and said so as of yet. To be fair, Romine has done a really good job at and behind the plate this Spring, better than I’ve seen him play in a really long time, so this very well could be his big league year.

And the “one to watch” tonight: Pete Kozma. That 7th inning triple and run scored was the lone Yankee offensive contribution among the minors guys, but Kozma is also quite at home in the infield, especially on the left side of said infield. Tonight, he came in at short stop, but he’s also played some 3rd base rather well at previous games. Kozma seems to be finding his stride offensively and finding his home defensively, and it’s nice to watch someone just click into place sometimes.

In awards and honors news, before the game, the Yankees awarded the 2015 Kevin Lawn Awards for the Yankees minor league “Pitcher of the Year” and “Player of the Year” to Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez for their outstanding performances on last year’s minor league teams. The awards are named for the son of the Yankees longtime COO Jack Lawn and honor the player development of the organization every year. A well-deserved congratulations to both!

Go Yankees!

{Media note: once again, no broadcast (which really doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons, least of which being that the Rays have a broadcast team and deal here in Florida already with a local affiliate of Fox Sports). Anyway, that means no highlights. Hope my descriptions can help spur your imagination instead!}

Spring Game 20: NYM vs. NYY — Empire State of Mind

Okay, this might be the first New York vs. New York game I’ve been to in forever where someone didn’t quip: “Hey, I think the team from New York is going to win this game.” The Yankees play the Mets far too often anymore for this joke to be more than a groaning pun. Fortunately, tonight’s game was spared such “dad humor”, at least on this point.

The Mets came up from Port St. Lucie to visit their crosstown rivals under a clear, crisp Spring evening. As the sun faded behind the stadium, the moon slowly rose over the right field until it hung bright and full in the night sky. A recent cold front swept through the area leaving Floridians shivering in their sweatshirts and tourists from up North enjoying the nice weather break. And with just a few exceptions, it was a rather lazy evening for 3 hours of baseball before a sell-out crowd.

And yes, the team from New York won.

Luis Severino is really something. In 77 pitches tonight, over 4.1 innings, he threw 48 strikes, including 5 strikeouts against Mets batters. The 2 hits he allowed only came in his final inning, the 5th, where he got into a bit of trouble — 2 on base with just 1 out and reaching his limit. It was time to call on the powerhouse guys from the back of the bullpen — Chapman, Betances, and Miller (in that order) to shut things down. It sort of worked.

Chapman’s first batter hit into a ground out that scored the lead runner, and a ground-rule double scored the other before a nasty strikeout closed the door on whatever rally the Mets were hoping for in the 5th inning. Betances’ 6th gave up a couple of hits, but relied on his trusty strikeouts (2 as usual) to get out of his own trouble. And Miller’s lone hit was stranded in the 7th due to his 2 strikeouts tonight in what has to be his best outing of the Spring so far.

It wasn’t until the 8th inning the Mets tried to rally their guys again to make something work on their side of the diamond, and they took advantage of an off-night by prospect Tyler Olson. With 2 outs, two runners on base with singles, in scoring position on a wild pitch, Olson walked the next batter to load up the bases. Clearly struggling, the Yankees gave him much needed relief in the form of Diego Moreno. But he too was having a bit of an off-night at first, walking his first batter to walk in the Mets’ 3rd run. After a brief consultation with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Moreno found his footing and got out of the inning and through the 9th without further damage, including 2 strike outs.

This put the final Yankees’ pitchers’ strike out count at 12. (Literally double what the Mets’ pitchers had on the Yankees’ batters tonight.)

And speaking of Yankee batters, it would be a single inning that would be the dividing line for the Yankees tonight — the 2nd. With 1 out, Headley singled and Castro doubled to put them in scoring position. Didi Gregorius’ single scored Headley to start things rolling. Then Brett Gardner’s single scored Castro, and Hicks’ single loaded the bases. Alex Rodriguez promptly plopped a short single between the left infielders to score both Gregorius and Gardner. Then with bases loaded again on Teixeira’s walk, Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly added one more as Hicks crossed home plate.

The Yankees added one more in the 6th, you know, just in case a 5-run inning wasn’t enough. With 2 outs and Gregorius at 2nd with a double, a slow throw to 1st allowed Dustin Fowler a single and the speedy Gregorius to score (he literally never stopped running). Fowler then stole 2nd but was left stranded there on a fly out to end the inning.

That single inning contribution was enough to earn Dustin Fowler the “One to Watch” honor in today’s post. He was replaced in the next inning by Payton (who made some decent plays in center field tonight on his own), but Fowler was the one that stood out, even if for his brief time in tonight’s game.

Final score: 6-3 Yankees.

Earlier today, the Yankees optioned Slade Heathcott to AAA Scranton, reassigning him to minor league camp. With Spring winding down, the remaining cuts will come in spurts with the final ax falling just before the Yankees leave for Miami to play the Marlins for 2 games April 1-2.

The Rays played the Cuban National Team earlier today in Havanna, as part of a diplomatic move by MLB and the United States to celebrate the opening doors to one of its Latin American neighbors, especially one that has given the game so many great players (like Chapman and the Mets’ Cespedes, who played in Tampa tonight). President Obama and his family (huge baseball fans in their own right) were present for the game as guests of Cuban president Raul Castro. Baseball dignitaries like Commissioner Manfred and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre were also at the game (and its festivities leading up to the event), as well as legends like Dave Winfield, Derek Jeter, and Rachel Robinson.

The last time an American team played baseball in Cuba was before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Robinson traveled with the Brooklyn Dodgers for Spring Training in Cuba in the 1947. So today’s game there was part of a very historic event.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: tonight’s game was not filmed once again. Chalk it up to the disadvantages of Spring Training or blame the big game in Cuba or whatever. Sorry!}

Also, tonight, I want to extend my personal thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families of the terrorist attacks today in Brussels, Belgium. Much like baseball can be a great uniter in times of tragedy and a conduit of healing and reconciliation, we stand with you from all across the world as you heal and stand strong against the evils that seek to disturb our peace and destroy our freedoms.

Spring Game 16: NYY vs. PIT — Luck of the Bombers

The Pirates donned a special green home jerseys for St. Patrick’s Day today, and for the only time during the year, most of the people in the stands looked more like they were attending an Oakland game rather than a Pirates vs. Yankees game. (In case you are unaware, the Oakland Athletics’ colors are green and yellow, so they are always ready for March 17.) But no, they were in Bradenton to see the Yankees come visit the Pirates today.

And the Yankees had a bit of trouble starting off but then their luck changed. Maybe it was the lack of green? As if they weren’t trying too hard to appease the leprechauns or something like that so they actually were granted more favor…

Okay, I have no idea what really happens on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m really not Irish at all except a possible very distant relative a couple hundred years ago that may or may not have actually emigrated from Ireland (more likely from Scotland, I’m told). So I have no clue of this holiday outside the actual story of St. Patrick, the English priest, who drove the snakes out of Ireland or used the shamrock in his sermons or something, and somehow this now translates to make total sense to wear lots of awful shades of green and drink cheap green beer all day.

Whatever. Happy St. Patrick’s Day if you are Irish, a snake, or like green things, I guess.

Masahiro Tanaka had a less than successful 2 inning outing, though it wasn’t nearly as terrible as he always seems to think it is (the mark of a true perfectionist competitor, I suppose). He gave up 4 hits, no walks, and 2 runs, striking out just 1 Pittsburgh batter. In the 1st inning, he allowed a nice 1-out solo shot. And in the 2nd, with 2 runners on base with singles and 2 outs, another single scored one more Pirates’ run. But that would be all for the Pirates this afternoon, as Tanaka’s relievers certainly did their jobs today.

Barbato escaped the 3rd inning with no added runs before handing the ball over to the very capable Luis Severino. Severino took the next 4 innings and just plowed through the Pirates’ batting order, giving up just 2 hits and striking out 5 batters overall. Just a phenomenal outing and enough to earn him the much-deserved win today too. Chasen Shreve turned out a flawless 8th inning, and prospect Tyler Olson gave a pretty decent 9th to close out the day for the Yankees’ relievers. Overall, Yankees’ pitchers gave up 8 hits and a walk, but struck out 9 batters.

The Pirates weren’t so lucky. (Okay, now even I’m tired of these puns.) In the 2nd, the Yankees started their offensive strike with a single from Headley and a double from Ackley. Rob Refsnyder’s ground out put the Yankees on the board as Headley scored their first run of the game. Then in the 4th, with 1 out and Ackley once again on base with a single, Refsnyder’s solid 2-run home run pushed the Yankees ahead of the Pirates on the board.

But they weren’t done yet. Starlin Castro pummeled a 1-out solo home run over the center field fence in the 5th inning. And then with Beltran and McCann on base with a walk and a double, Chase Headley’s sacrifice fly score Beltran to add to the expanding Yankee run total. And finally in the 7th, with Kozma and Puello on base with single, Austin Romine reached on a fielding error (the ball literally went right under the glove of the fielder, between his legs, and rolled into the shallow outfield) that ended up scoring Kozma and moving Puello all the way to 3rd so that he could then score on Diaz’s ground out into a double play.

The Yankees’ 10 hits and 3 walks produced 7 runs (6 earned, thanks to that fielding error) and got the Pirates’ pitchers to throw them only 3 strikeouts the entire game.

Final score: 7-2 Yankees.

“One to watch”: I got to give this one again to Cesar Puello. His great base running in the 7th showed his instinct. He went 1-for 2, with a run scored today. And he’s consistent in right field too, helping to keep the Pirates to their 2 measly runs. Puello continues to impress in nearly every game he steps into. That consistency and participation in both offense and defense will help the team remember you when they need to call up someone, anyone for any number of reasons throughout the year.

Go Yankees!