Spring Games 22 & 23: NYY vs. BAL & NYY vs. PHI — Double away victories, perhaps with some good luck

I don’t often look at the standings during Spring Training (or early in the regular season) because it never gives you an accurate picture of what the real season will look like. But I happened to see them today in passing. The Yankees are currently sitting atop the Grapefruit League standings, 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals. It’s worth noting the Yankees are also well in the lead over the Cactus League.

But as we’ve said in previous years, the standings in Spring mean nothing. It’s a very long season, and there’s far too many variables (like injuries, trades, hit streaks, and dry spells) that affect where teams land for October baseball. So, Yankee fans, feel happy about today but cautiously optimistic about 7 months from now.

The Yankees played another split squad day, but this time was unique as both squads played in away games. One group traveled about an hour south to Sarasota to visit the Orioles, and the other about 20 minutes west to Clearwater to see the Phillies. And both teams got a little “lucky” on this cloudy Sunday holiday.

Game 1: Yankees at Orioles
Jonathan Loaisiga got the start for the Yankees here and helped set a solid, strong pattern that would earn him the eventual win for the afternoon with 3 great scoreless innings. David Hale continued his momentum in his 3 innings, only allowing the Orioles on the board in his final inning.

So, in the 6th, with 1 out and a runner on 1st, a double moved the runner to 3rd to score on an easy ground out. Yankees’ reliever Hutchison sailed through the 7th but gave up a lead-off solo shot in the 8th. A 1-out single later scored on a 2-out single to give the Orioles just one more run for the afternoon. And Brothers closed out the game with a quick, scoreless 9th.

The Yankees once again got on the board early and first. In the 1st, Kyle Holder led-off the game with a single but was forced out at 2nd on Andujar’s fielder’s choice (again, another delayed, unsuccessful double play attempt). This means that Luke Voit’s big homer up the middle became a 2-run home run. Miguel Andujar led-off the 3rd with a solo home run into the left field seats, and Zack Zehner imitated him with a lead-off solo home run of his own, also to left field, in the 4th.

After the Orioles chipped some off their lead, the Yankees didn’t get another chance until the 9th to find an insurance run. Burns worked a 1-out walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Holder’s 2-out double.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Game 2: Yankees at Phillies
Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the Yankees had a bit more of a battle to the finish today, with a scoreless game for most of the first half of the afternoon. The Yankees finally found their moment in the 5th inning. Lipka led-off with a bunt single, stole 2nd, and easily scored on Trey Amburgey’s big triple to get the Yankees on the board first.

James Paxton got the start, throwing into the 5th inning, but finding trouble there. He gave up a lead-off walk, and the next batter made it to 1st on a strikeout-wild pitch. With those 2 runners on, Chad Green came on to try to shut down the advancing Phillies. But he promptly gave up a single that scored the tying run. Another single put another runner on base, so both runners scored on a triple to give the home team the lead. A great fielder’s choice got the lead runner out at home on the next play.

It would be Dellin Betances to right the ship for the Yankees, kicking off the momentum with a flawless 6th inning. Kahnle, Coulombe, and Anderson Severino (no relation) each took a scoreless inning to help give the Yankees a chance to regain the lead.

So, in the 6th, Greg Bird led-off with a big solo home run, and Gleyber Torres followed suit with a 1-out solo home run to tie up the game. In the 7th, with 1 out, LeMahieu made it safely on a throwing error and then scored as part of Troy Tulowitzki’s 2-run home run to give the Yankees the lead again.

But the hits kept coming. In the 8th, Tyler Wade led-off with single, moved to 2nd on Olivares’ single, and later scored on Cabrera’s 2-out single. Castillo’s single scored Olivares, officially sealing another Yankees’ win this afternoon.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will play another away game. This time, they travel to Kissimmee, about an hour east, to visit the Braves’ Spring home tomorrow night. It will be the last season the Braves have their Spring Training on Disney World property as their new home in Sarasota will officially open next year. However, they are scheduled to play an inaugural game against the Rays on March 24 before the 2019 season begins.

Finally, a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!

Go Yankees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: 2-2 tie

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: 6-5 Yankees

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

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

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

Go Yankees!

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

Spring Games 29 & 30: NYY vs. ATL & TOR vs. NYY — Double the win, double the fun

Okay, it was a busy day for the Yankees playing split squad games and dealing with a mix of changes and potential alterations to the lineup. A portion of the Yankees traveled over to face the Braves in Kissimmee (on Disney World property), and another portion stayed in Tampa to face off against the visiting the Blue Jays. They will play both teams later next week — the Braves in a final exhibition game in Atlanta on Monday night and the opening series in Toronto next weekend.

Game 1: Yankees at Braves
This game was oddly routine for most of the game this afternoon. Luis Severino got the start and gave up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs in his 5 innings, striking out 7 batters along the way. Oddly, all of his allowed hits, walks, and runs came in just the 4th inning. He gave up a single that scored on a big 2-run home run to get the Braves on the board. He then gave up 2 walks but then buckled down and got 2 strikeouts and a ground out to get out of the inning.

Chad Green had a great 6th inning, but then gave up a single in the 7th before the Yankees handed the ball to Adam Warren. A sacrifice bunt moved that runner to 2nd and later a 2-out single scored that runner, charged to Green. Warren came out for the first out of the 8th before handing things over to Ben Heller for a flawless 2 strikeouts. Cody Carroll then flew through the 9th inning. Overall, the Yankee pitchers collected an impressive 14 total strikeouts.

The Braves actually kept the score pretty tight and in their favor for most of the game. The Yankees got on the board first in the 4th, with Aaron Hicks’ lead-off solo home run and Ryan McBroom’s 1-out solo shot. After the Braves tied up the game and then took the lead by the top of the 7th, the Yankees didn’t get their next option until the 9th inning. And boy did they pounce. McBroom led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on Aguilar’s single, and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ 2-out single to tie up the game.

Then Billy McKinney’s single then scored Aguilar to put the Yankee ahead, and a wild pitch moved runners to scoring position. Shane Robinson’s single scored Torres, and the Braves called for a new reliever to find that elusive 3rd out. But then Hendrix worked a walk to load the bases, and Francisco Diaz followed that up with a walk of his own to scored yet another run. Back to the top of the inning’s order, McBroom then hit a long single and 2 runners scored thanks in part to a throwing error.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

Game 2: Blue Jays at Yankees
Meanwhile, back in Tampa, the game was anything but usual, with both teams going back and forth for much of the game. David Hale got the start with mixed results in his 3 innings. He gave up a 1-out single and a 2-out 2-run homer right in the 1st inning. In the 3rd, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on a 2-out single.

The Yankee batters kept the score close though. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton worked a walk and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run to tie up the game. In the 4th, Miguel Andujar worked a walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Austin Romine’s long 2-out double that bounced off the center field wall (just inches from the top off the wall to be a home run).

Judge hit a 1-out single in the 5th and then scored with Giancarlo Stanton’s monster 2-run home run that dented the Pepsi sign on the top left of the big scoreboard in left field. In the 6th, they loaded up the bases with singles by Andujar and Florial and a walk to Romine. With 1 out, Brett Gardner hit a long sacrifice fly and scored Andujar. Then Rashad Crawford hit a solid double to scored Florial. That gave the Yankees a nice lead.

Giovanny Gallegos threw a strong 2 innings, before handing the ball to JP Feyereisen in the 6th. Feyereisen had a fairly strong 6th, despite giving up a 1-out solo shot. But the lead-off batter in the 7th hit a sharp comebacker that smacked Feyereisen’s hand. He was flexing it, and they let him continue. But he struggled with control (an oddity for the young prospect) for the rest of the inning — giving up a ground-rule double, a 2-RBI single, a double play, and a walk.

Young reliever Josh Rogers came on to finish off the 7th for Feyereisen and closed out that inning scoreless before plowing through the next 2 innings and keeping the Blue Jays from adding to their score and chipping away at the Yankees’ lead.

Oddly paralleling the other game, the Yankees had a rather big offensive inning at home. This one in the bottom of the 7th. They loaded up the bases with a single, an error, and a walk. Estevan Florial worked a walk to score a run before Erik Kratz powered a big bases-clearing, 3-run double. One out later, Zack Zehner hit a big 2-run home run off the black screen above center field. Despite loading up the bases and a pitching change, the Yankees weren’t able to add more to their score.

But they really didn’t need it.

Final score: 13-6 Yankees

Ones to Watch: for the final Spring Training nominees, we’ve got outfielder Rashad Crawford and pitcher Josh Rogers. Crawford is consistent in his defense, for a second Spring in a row, and his outstanding offense today (2 hits in 2 at-bats, 1 RBI) helped the Yankees power through toward victory. And the dominance of Rogers’ pitching helped keep the Blue Jays away, throwing 7 solid outs and earning the save in today’s game. Both young players (ages 24 and 23, respectively) are certainly worth keeping an eye on, with a call to the Bronx sometime in the near future.

Next up: the Yankees play their final Florida-based Spring Training game tomorrow afternoon in Port Charlotte against the Rays. It’s almost over, everyone. Opening Day is right around the corner.

Injury: Brandon Drury is nursing a bruised elbow, buying an elbow pad to be worn for all future at-bats, and being grateful there wasn’t something more serious that would deter him from playing in the opening series next week. And Greg Bird was scheduled to start the game against the Braves, but during batting practice, Bird felt a soreness in his foot. And what complicates things is that it’s the same area that troubled him for most of last season that hampered his play time. They are sending him to further testing, while crossing fingers and hoping for the best. The small advantage is the ridiculous depth the Yankees do have now — Tyler Austin, Neil Walker, and even Austin Romine can all play 1st if necessary.

Roster: before today’s games, the Yankees sent Domingo German down to AAA Scranton, effectively making Jonathan Holder the extra reliever the Yankees hope to carry into the season. More roster moves are expected this weekend before the Yankees leave for Atlanta, but most of the spots are now pretty set. And that alone should give everyone some really big hope for this season. They’re really good. Their back-ups are really good. This whole team could be something to watch this season.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: limited media available for the home game against the Blue Jays. It was amazing, so I’m sorry you won’t get to see it.}