While the Yankees were busy making waves by signing Neil Walker to a contract today, further putting the complexion of the infield in flux, the Yankees already in Tampa at George M. Steinbrenner field had a game to play against the Minnesota Twins. Fans watching at home were treated to the sounds of one of the best broadcast teams in all of baseball, in this writer's humble opinion anyway, as both Ken Singleton and David Cone were on the mics tonight for the YES network. Enjoy it now, as Ken announced today that the 2018 season will be his last in the booth. I grew up listening to Ken on Yankee broadcasts, and have always enjoyed his input as a color commentator and his demeanor when calling a game as the play-by-play announcer, particularly in concert with the commentary David Cone adds. Ken Singleton has had a long, successful career as a broadcaster, and has earned some time away. Let's continue to enjoy everything he adds to Yankee broadcasts while we can.
Tonight's game featured Masahiro Tanaka, making his second start of the spring, facing off against old friend Phil Hughes, attempting to find his footing after injury marred 2016 and 2017 seasons. Without further ado, here's the summary:
In the top of the 1st, Tanaka had command of his complete arsenal, mixing his 4 seam fastball, 2 seam fastball, slider, curveball, and splitter with command to carve up the top of the twins lineup, striking out both Byron Buxton (maybe with an assist from home plate ump Marty Foster) and Max Kepler. The Yankee coaching staff also must have been happy to see Tanaka successfully pass his first PFP (Pitcher-Fielding-Practice, the most hated exercise pitchers perform during spring training) on a come-backer by Aybar.
Phil Hughes is a different pitcher than Yankee fans will remember, attempting to reinvent himself as a command righty after multiple arm injuries. In the bottom of the 1st, Hughes used a fastball, slider, and a nasty 12-6 curve to neutralize the top of the Yankee lineup in order.
In a tale of two innings, Tanaka lost his command and maybe his mechanics, particularly pitching out of the stretch, in the top of the 2nd. Robbie Grossman hit a one-out double to right-center on a hanging slider from Tanaka, and Bobby Wilson followed that up with an opposite field shot to right field as the short porch made Tanaka its victim. Following the homer, Tanaka gave up a hit to top prospect Nick Gordon and walked Gregorio Petit to put runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out. Tanaka got out of the jam with 2 Ks to end the inning, although manager Paul Molitor was clearly unhappy with the call from Marty Foster on Tanaka's first K of the inning against Pacheco, as Molitor could be heard yelling to Foster, "Not even close!" The Yankees were not able to respond in the bottom of the 2nd despite a hard single by Drury to lead off the inning.
Tanaka settled back down in the top of the 3rd pitching out of the windup with a quick 1, 2, 3 inning. Tyler Austin closed the top half of the frame with a nifty grab on a hot grounder from Kennys Vargas down the 1B line.
The Yankees made some noise in the bottom half of the inning as Ronald Torreyes connected on a lead-off double. Tyler Wade followed with a double of his own, but Torreyes got a bit greedy and was thrown out easily as he attempted to score. Wade made a heads up play moving up to 3rd on the throw home, but the Yanks were not able to capitalize with a man on 1st with 1 out.
Tanaka decided to let the infield get its work in during the top half of the 4th inning, his final frame of the contest. Following a lead-off single by Grossman, Drury made a great play on a bullet to the hole between 3rd and SS and appeared to double-off Grossman at 1B, but umpire Laz Diaz thought otherwise, saying Drury caught it on the hop. While this is a play that certainly would have been challenged during the regular season, Tanaka was no worse for wear as he navigated through the rest of the inning without incident.
Good vibes in the bottom half of the 4th inning, as Tyler Austin hammered a solo shot to right-center on a Phil Hughes slider that just leaked back over the meat of the plate following two quick outs by Gardy and Drury. This is the last time the Yanks would threaten until the bottom of the 8th.
Betances came in to pitch at the top of the 5th, displaying Betances-style wickedness in striking out both hitters he faced, the first on one of the nastiest breaking balls he's thrown in a game since likely last June. Chasen Shreve came in to get the last out of the inning without incident. The Yankees couldn't get anything going in the bottom half of the inning, as a lead-off single by Austin Romine was spoiled by a 6-3 double play on a chopper up the middle by Torreyes. Wade added some excitement by using his wheels to leg out an infield single on a well-placed drag bunt, but ended the inning after getting caught stealing by an eyelash.
Domingo German came in to pitch the 6th, and looked to be in mid-season form as he ripped through the Twins 1, 2, 3, striking out Grossman to end the inning, wile the Yanks did little of note offensively in the bottom-half of the inning.
More of the same for both squads through the 7th inning, but the 8th inning provided some intrigue. Domingo German, who was in control for his first two innings, seemed to lose his control in the 8th, as he hit Max Kepler on the top of the right foot with a curve. Kepler was pulled from the game, but was walking on his own power as he exited. German settled down, and blew a fastball by Byron Buxton to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 8th, top-prospect Estevan Florial got to show off his raw speed. Following a walk on 5 pitches, Florial advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, and managed to tag up with 2 outs on a fly ball to mid-CF off the bat of Greg Bird. With a runner on 3rd and two outs, the Yanks were not able to capitalize as Drury chopped out weakly in front of the plate to end the threat.
Kahnle finished the game for the Yanks in the 9th, throwing as boring an inning as is possible with a 96 MPH fastball and 90 MPH change-up. Despite a Torreyes single with 2 outs to keep hopes alive, the Yanks couldn't get one last run, as they fell to the Twins at home 2-1.
Odds and Ends
- While Stanton didn't produce any statistics of note tonight, it must be noted that he handled his one chance in LF tonight without incident, successfully converting a fly ball into an out in the 3rd inning.
- As I allude to above, Tanaka seemed to lose some stuff and command out of the stretch tonight. In speaking to Jack Curry in the 7th inning, Tanaka noted that he wanted to be more consistent mechanically in his next outing. Not something to worry about in mid-March, but certainly something to look for improvement on as the Spring progresses.
- Speaking to the YES booth in the top of the 5th, Aaron Boone really talked up Tyler Wade (admittedly, one of my personal favorites of the young guys), saying that despite the signing of established veteran Neil Walker, Tyler Wade still has a chance to win not just the Utility Infield spot, but even the starting 2B job. The complexion of the starting and reserve infield is a complicated matter to sort through, and Boone won't give those of us on the outside any clues this early in Spring how it's going to play out.
- Speaking of the infield battle, Ronald Torreyes had a tough night compared to Tyler Wade in the field. Torreyes made a tough error on a chopper to short, whereas Tyler Wade really looked smooth and rangy at 2nd. This is a battle that will be at the heart of how the Yankees' roster looks on Opening Day.
- It's no secret that Betances experienced significant struggles with control at the end of last season. Tonight, he displayed a shift in his mechanics as compared to last season. At the start of his set position last year, Betances's body was noticeably closed to the plate to varying degrees. Tonight, Betances was relatively neutral in relation to home plate in the set position, and he looked like the Betances we've come to know and love. The Yankees have put together a bullpen that could be historic - it's that much better if Betances pitches like he did prior to the 2nd half of last season.
- Domingo German looked really good tonight. He's come to camp prepared, and I think that if he doesn't make the big league bullpen to begin the year, he could very well be the 6th starter.