Apr
03

A win! Yankees salvage series with 4-2 win over Astros

By

Well, it took a little longer than we all would have liked, but the Yankees won their first game of 2014 on Thursday. They avoided what would have been a pretty embarrassing sweep with a 4-2 win over the Astros. It wasn’t the easiest win in the world, but a win is a win and they needed it.

(Bob Levey/Getty)

(Bob Levey/Getty)

The First Lead of 2014
The first two games of this series were so ugly that, not only did the Yankees never hold a lead, but they were trailing after every single inning. The Astros scored in the first inning in the first two games and they did it again on Thursday, pushing a run across on a rookie mistake. More on that later. It looked like we were all in for more of the same after that early run.

Thankfully, it all changed in the third inning, when the Yankees put together an extended rally to score two runs and take their first lead of the season. Brian Roberts flew out on the first pitch to start the inning, but after that they had a six-pitch at-bat (Ichiro Suzuki single), a five-pitch at-bat (Yangervis Solarte single), a two-pitch at-bat (Brett Gardner single to score Ichiro), an eight-pitch at-bat (Derek Jeter walk), and a four-pitch at-bat (Carlos Beltran sac fly to score Solarte). They fouled off five of eleven two-strike pitches to extend at-bats. Excellent little rally full of … dare I say … professional at-bats.

The Yankees scored their third run in the fifth inning, but that one was a little more straight forward. Solarte doubled on a ball just out of the reach of a diving Robbie Grossman, then Jeter singled him in on a Jeterian hit to right. The same base hit to right we’ve been watching since 1996. The throw home was cut off and Jeter was tagged out between first and second, so the inning was over right after the run scored. Hey, it counted. that’s all that matters.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Bend, Bend, Bend Some More, But Never Break
Thursday’s start was a real grind for Ivan Nova. He simply had no idea where anything was going. Not his fastball and certainly not his curveball. Only eleven of the 24 curves he threw were strikes (swinging or otherwise) and only 47 of his 88 pitches were strikes overall. Only 53%. Nova wasn’t missing just off the plate either. He was bouncing 55-footers, missing a mile outside, way up out of the zone, all over the place really. Tough battle for him.

And yet, Nova held the Astros to two runs on six hits and five walks in 5.2 innings. He only struck out one against the five walks, giving you an idea of how tough this outing was. One of those two runs scored in the first, when Solarte made a rookie mistake by going for the 5-4-3 double play with the bases loaded rather than throwing home for the force out and potential 5-2-3 double play. Nova limited the damage that inning by getting a double play with his sinker, something he did all game. He got four ground ball double plays in his five full innings, two of which ended innings with multiple runners on base.

This was the kind of start that, a year or two ago, would have snowballed out of control on Nova. That ability to get by when nothing is working is what separates the promising youngsters from the bonafide big leaguers. Sure, a better offense might have crushed Nova given his control problems, but he doesn’t get to pick his opponent or the days when everything is working. This was an Andy Pettitte-esque outing for Ivan. A total grind, but he kept it together and didn’t let things get out of hand. Well done.

The New Bullpen
Mariano Rivera is gone. So are Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Aside from David Robertson in the ninth inning, the Yankees came into the year with no clearly defined roles in the bullpen, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We saw Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitch when they were losing big on Tuesday, David Phelps when the game was a little closer on Wednesday, and a completely different crop of pitchers on Thursday.

Nova left a runner on first base when he exited the game with two outs in the sixth, giving way to Adam Warren. Warren struck out the next batter on three pitches, then tacked on a scoreless seventh inning as well. He faced four batters, got two strikeouts, one weak ground ball back to himself, and a weak infield pop-up. Only needed 14 pitches too. I’ve been curious to see what Warren could do in a short relief role for a while now, and he did not disappoint on Thursday. He could be a real middle innings weapon.

As expected, Shawn Kelley took over Robertson’s old role as the eighth inning setup man. He got lucky when Jose Altuve ripped a line drive right at Solarte, but otherwise he struck out the next two batters without much issue. I was a little surprised when Joe Girardi didn’t bring in Matt Thornton to get the left-handed Marc Krauss, not that I thought he should have. Just seemed like a move he’d make. Robertson, in his first official save chance as the team’s closer, retired the side in order in the ninth on a fly ball, a strikeout, and weak ground ball back to himself. He threw only 13 pitches. Piece of cake.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Solarte Partay
How about that for your first big league start? Solarte made a mistake by not throwing home in the first inning, but otherwise he had an outstanding game. His first career hit was a ground ball single up the middle, his second a bloop hustle double in front of Grossman, his third an infield pop-up that fell between the infielders. He also drew his first career walk in the ninth inning. If the Astros were a better defensive team, he could have easily gone 0-for-3. Instead, Solarte went 3-for-3 with a walk, a run driven in, and two runs scored in his first career start. Not a bad day at the office.

Leftovers
The four through seven hitters went a combined 0-for-15 with a walk (Roberts) and three strikeouts, all by Frankie Cervelli. Not a good night for those guys. Alfonso Soriano went 0-for-4 and is still hitless on the season, but he did hit two line drives right at infielders. He ran into a little bad luck on Thursday. Hopefully he’s starting to come out of it.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Gardner and Jeter both went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run driven in, seeing a combined 37 pitches from the top two spots in the lineup. Ichiro went 2-for-4 with a double and deserves some props for scoring a big insurance run from second on Solarte’s infield pop-up single. He put his head down and ran hard the whole way. I’m really hoping he pulls a 1996-98 Tim Raines this year, the former star who becomes a kick ass part-timer.

There was a three or four-minute delay with two outs in the top of the ninth because the umpires lost track of the count and went to the new replay system to review it. I guess that’s reviewable? Seems weird. Since it happened in the seventh inning or later, the umpires can go to the review on their own, without a challenge from the manager. They confirmed the count was 3-1 and one pitch later, Solarte walked.

Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Soriano for defense in the late innings, just in case you were worried he did not start because his calf was bothering him. He took over in center and Gardner slid over to left, so their outfield for the last six defensive outs was Gardner, Ellsbury, and Ichiro. That’s a pretty excellent defensive outfield right there.

The Yankees still have not hit a homerun this year, by the way. The last time they started the season with three straight homerless games with 1998, and the last time they went four or more games without a dinger to start a season was 1990. They hit a homer on Opening Day every year from 1999-2012. Am I the only one amazed by that?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are off to Toronto for a three-game weekend series against the Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka will make his long-awaiting debut in the opener on Friday night, which has been pushed back from 7pm to 7:30pm ET for whatever reason. I guess it has to do with the pregame ceremonies. Righty Dustin McGowan will be on the bump for the Jays. Can’t wait for Tanaka, you guys.

Categories : Game Stories

88 Comments»

  1. BigBlueAL says:

    Great to see Robertson with such an easy 9th to get the save. I have all the faith in the world he will be just as excellent as the closer as he was as the 8th inning guy but it was still nice to see him have an easy 9th for his 1st save opportunity of the season.

    • OB/GYN. Kenobi, Jedi bushmaster says:

      I agree. All the hand wringing on Francesa et al about how many pitches he throws pissed me off. Ca we give the guy a chance please? I think he’ll be fine.

      • blake says:

        Francesa really needs to get a clue….DRob cut his walk rate in half 2 years ago and he had a better WHIP than Mo last year. He used to allow a lot of baserunners….he doesn’t anymore and is one of the very best relievers in baseball

        • CountryClub says:

          All true. But he does still have a bad habit of throwing a lot of pitches. He’s even said that was a point of emphasis this year. But he’s going to be great.

  2. W.B. Mason Williams says:

    SOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRTTTTTTEEEEEEE

  3. J-S says:

    Bullpen has been a pleasant surprise. The problem is all the offense today (and for the other games) came from the players who are supposed to give you less offense…

    When Tex, Soriano, Beltran ans Ellsbury will begin to produce, the Yankees will be tough to stop with the pitching they have !

    • Winter says:

      I’d like to see some more consistency from the starters, though. Hiroki looked good, but Sabathia scares me now and Nova looked real shaky today. I feel like any lineup other than the Astros would have destroyed him.

      • Tom says:

        So has Nova pretty much given up on his changeup? He mostly abandoned it last year, especially the 2nd half, and I think he might have thrown 1 tonight.

        His curveball is great, but if it’s not on, it’s going to be a grind; and against a good lineup he has no plan B. He had 1 swing and miss tonight and against a good hitting team, he likely would have been lit up.

        Warren looked real sharp – his stuff will likely play up better in the pen than Phelps and I think it is a matter of time before he jumps him on the totem pole. Phelps strength is more his overall well roundedness which is probably better suited for long relief/spot starter.

        • Tom says:

          Oops – reply fail…

        • forensic says:

          He’ll throw a few changeups every so often, but he mostly replaced it (and the slider) the two-seamer now (with his four-seamer and curve) to help him induce grounders with somewhat similar down/away movement from lefties.

          • forensic says:

            Though he did also say that he’s still working on the changeup (especially in his MiLB game) and thinks it’ll help him during the season still.

        • vicki says:

          all our pitchers threw fewer changeups last year. guess stewie didn’t like it.

      • J-S says:

        I agree with you for the consistency of the starters. But the real problem is the hitting for now. When a SP allows 2 runs on 3 hits in 6 innings, he is supposed to finish the night with the W.

        I’m from Quebec, and the New York fans really really remind me of the Montreal Canadiens fans… After 3 losses, season over, after 3 wins, world serie is coming to town. CC was roughed up in his first spring start, and everybody was ready to DFA him… Then, he comes back and gives up about 10 hits in 15 scoreless innings, and everybody claims the old CC is back. Then, he got roughed up for 2 innings and everybody hates him again. Montreal fans did the same thing with Carey Price for years, and he is now one of the best goalies in the league. I know CC is older, but I assure you he will be alright this year. Give him a couple of starts to prove you all wrong !

  4. Jeff says:

    Solarte looks like Melky from both sides of the plate.

  5. forensic says:

    Well, at least they avoided full-on crisis mode. Still sucks to lose a series to the Astros, but at least it’s only one less win than I expected them to get in the series.

    Now time for them to get in a groove with a bunch of games on consecutive days and nothing outside of the Eastern time zone for more than a month.

  6. TWTR says:

    I was really impressed by Warren, and surprisingly (at least to me), the quality of Ichiro’s ABs.

  7. rogue says:

    The top 3 of the order…

    2/10, 2 BB, 3 RBI, 5 K

    Bottom 3…

    5/10, 2 BB, 1 RBI, 4 RUNS, 1 K

    The middle…

    0/12, 3 K

    • forensic says:

      Hence the second leadoff man in the 7 spot. The bottom guys get on, the top guys drive them in, and the middle guys give the pitcher a breather…

  8. Cuso says:

    Can just about guarantee that Jeter will be DHing once on the Rogers Centre turf giving Anna his first start at short. If I’d have to guess, Girardi probably would prefer to wait until CC goes on Sunday. But because that would be Jeter’s 6th straight start, he may do it Saturday.

    • forensic says:

      I could see an infield tomorrow of Solarte, Anna, Roberts, and Johnson. Girardi said Tex and Jeter will each get one of the next two off. With Solarte getting a couple hits tonight, I could see him wanting to keep him in and sit Tex tomorrow with Johnson moving to first. Anna in for Jeter might improve the defense a little bit too with Tanaka on the mound (as he’ll likely get more grounders than Pineda).

    • Darren says:

      According to the Post, Jeter will likely get a full day off tonight (Friday).

    • J-S says:

      Pretty sure Roberts will get one of the three too (against a RHP), so Solarte would probably get 2 starts in the 3 game series.

      I really hope he continues to impress !

  9. Wicomico Pinstripes says:

    Apparently, Ichiro didn’t get the memo that’s he’s too old and does too few things well.

    On a serious note, he could be quite useful if he adjusts to the role he seems to be destined for. I’d be disappointed if he was dumped for salary relief or a middling reliever. A transaction such as this seems illogical to me.

    • Chris H says:

      So did Wells, Hafner, and Overbay last year for a month, early season success for past their prime vets means almost nothing.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        I think this was both just one good game and that he’ll do perfectly fine as four and a halfth outfielder.

      • BigDavey88 says:

        Right, but remember, those guys you listed were forced to play everyday.

        Hopefully, the Yankees don’t reach a point where they have to play Ichiro everyday.

      • Joe says:

        Yeah but you’re comparing Wells, Hafner, Overbay to a hall of famer. Ichiro’s a better bet to produce all season with a lesser role

  10. forensic says:

    Robertson wanted to make sure he closed it out quickly with the 4-2 lead in tribute to Mo…

  11. vicki says:

    you gotta figure solarte has seen oberholtzer a good bit the last two years in the PCL. (a number of the houston position players too; god, they’re young.) i’m certainly not trying to take anything away from his big day, but maybe it did relax him a little.

  12. 461deep says:

    Nice gritty game for Nova getting 4 DP’s when needed. Astros look to be improved this year but Carter cold now killed them tonight.
    Ride Solarte until he cools off. Beltran is now a 6 tool guy as he was Solarte’s interpreter with Meredith after the game.

    • Chris H says:

      To be a 6 tool player he’d have to have range in the outfield an a dynamite arm, the arm is still OK but nothing special, the range is completely gone.

  13. Get Phelps Up says:

    What is that gray line underneath the green line in the WPA graph? I don’t think I’ve seen that before.

    • vicki says:

      i can’t say i quite grasp the distinction yet, but from fangraphs:

      “For every game this year we’ll be projecting the odds of each team winning on our live scoreboard. We’ve also added an extra experimental line on live Win Probability graphs that adjusts for the newly calculated game odds.”

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs.....game-odds/

      • Get Phelps Up says:

        Hm, so it’s basically a 2nd version of WE based on projections and taking into account the opponent more. That should be interesting to see how that evolves over the season.

  14. Wheels says:

    A’s-Mariners in the 11th.

  15. Chris H says:

    Nova’s lucky he was facing the Astros, have this kind of game against a division rival and he’s breaking.

  16. Paco Dooley says:

    This game really demonstrated how poor the Yankees infield defence is this year. A lot of those hits could have been outs if they had a 2B and SS with any range at all. The infielder looked like they were trying to run in sand.

    I also noticed how tiny Roberts looks next to Jeter…

  17. Jorge Steinbrenner says:

    So they didn’t crumble like pillars of salt when they took the mound with a lead. I thought for sure Shawn Kelley was just going to skip town. Guess not. Day one for the rest of our life with our bullpen looked great.

    Nice win. Nothing like that first win sometimes.

    Let me also welcome TomH back for the weekend series.

  18. Pinedamaybegreata(formerlyMonterowasdinero) says:

    Didn’t see the game but happy for the win and as for Tanaka tonighta…

    McCannacorn

  19. The Other Matt says:

    Funny that Mike should mention Ichiro as a comparison to Tim Raines, he’s wearing Rock’s old number 31. On a serious note though, much props to Ichiro. He’s caught a lot of flack on here by quite a few people who want to see him gone in favor of Almonte. And although I’m a fan of Almonte and the start he got off to last year, I think everyone should take a step back and really appreciate the player that Ichiro is. Clearly he isn’t the same guy that he was when he won ROY and MVP but if it weren’t for his salary this season and the Yankees had picked him up this off-season for this specific role, I think fans would be lauding the front office for the move. We all know Ellsbury’s injury history and Brett Gardner certainly isn’t Cal Ripken, Jr. himself. Ichiro can play all three outfield positions quite well, which provides value off the bench.

    Ichiro is a prideful guy if anything else, you can tell in the way he plays the game, and he isn’t going to die easily and be a detriment to the team just because he isn’t viewed as a starting outfielder anymore, which is would most future HOF’ers would be in this situation. And oddly, he hits well against left handing pitching. Nevertheless, nice game Ichiro. Hopefully, he can have a nice season like Mike said.

    • Mike HC says:

      I agree with most of what you wrote, but it was Ichiro who demanded the two year deal. Yanks only wanted the one year. So while I give him credit for “accepting” his reduced role, he did make his own bed.

      • The Other Matt says:

        True. I for one wasn’t excited about him getting 2 years, but in the game of 8-10 year contracts there are more egregious contract demands going on. Ichiro is a legend in the game, and you can’t blame him for wanting to have some security towards the end of the his career. Not to mention be compensated for his play, which was pretty good, once he came to the Yankees in 2012. To me, Beltran’s contract is a year too long for a guy of his age and the history of his knee injuries. But he wanted a 3 year deal and the front office relented.

        • Mike HC says:

          Agreed on Beltran as well. And honestly, beyond the numbers, he looks like shit out there.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

            I think Beltran will be fine in the medium run. That third year was the price of doing business if they wanted him, though, and it appears they wanted something to put out there following the Robbie news. Not the greatest deal in the world, but I don’t think two games tells the tale on Beltran.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      The two-year deal colors how people view him as well, especially since he received that deal right in the middle of the 189 panic.

      If the Yanks picked him up this season, on a one-year deal, would people have reacted differently? I could agree with that. The supposedly frugality talk is out the window, although I still think how much money the deal was for would matter. Some would still argue that the money could have been better slotted for an infielder, but such is life.

      I think he’s fine in his current role. There’s nothing really to point at that says that Zoilo couldn’t do the job just as well, but conventional wisdom tends to point to the vet being better suited to come cold off the bench.

    • gageagainstthemachine says:

      you mean Dave Winfield’s number, right?!
      (had to be done…he’s my favorite Yankee of my youth)

  20. fred robbins says:

    nice game for the Yankees. Hopefully Soriano finds a hot streak soon and really makes the line up tough to pitch to. Joey G switched up the rotation so that Tanaka would miss Boston in favor of CC who has never pitched well against Boston… So I think CC gets Boston twice in the early going. This will be interesting.
    Hoping for a fun game tonight with Tanaka and the building of a little streak.

  21. Darren says:

    I can’t remember the last time Jeter made a base-running blunder like he did last night. What the hell. He’s no rook. You used to see that shit all the time from Posada, Cano (and Bernie?) but Jeter? He better step up his focus a little bit, we don’t him getting distracted by the hoopla of his last year, we need him to do a job. If not, Solarte is nipping at his pinstriped cowboy boots.

    • J-S says:

      Honestly, I seriously think Solarte is out at the plate by a mile if Jeter is not going to second…

      • Darren says:

        Tough to tell, seems like the ball might not have been travelling fast enough to get Solarte out. If Jeter did it on purpose, then that’s pretty awesome.

        • JAG says:

          I’m willing to give Jeter the benefit of the doubt, especially when the offense had been struggling and they really needed the run. Going for 2nd to ensure the run scores is a pretty textbook play, and exactly the kind of thing I could see Jeter doing.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      Solarte has a shoewear fetish?

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      “If not, Solarte is nipping at his pinstriped cowboy boots.”

      Oh my God. Seriously. Go on a month long sabbatical, Darren. You really need a break.

      • Darren says:

        I don’t really get where you’re coming from on this one, which I think I’m thankful for.

      • Darren says:

        In case you didn’t get the reference, the Astros gave Jeter a pair of ridiculous pinstriped cowboy boots the other day.

        In case it wasn’t obvious, I don’t think Solarte will actually challenge Jeter as starting shortstop.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

          “He better step up his focus a little bit, we don’t him getting distracted by the hoopla of his last year, we need him to do a job.”

          Ok, dude.

  22. joe says:

    never nervous Yangervis

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