What better way to spend a Sunday than sitting through a three-hour, 17-minute rain delay and watching the Yankees lose a home series to an Orioles team that might not sniff 50 wins. Just a terrible series all around. The Yankees didn’t exactly come out this weekend and show the world they’re the team to beat this season, that’s for sure. The final score was 7-5.
J.A Happ’s Spring Training home run problem carried over into his first regular season start. Happ allowed six home runs in his 11.1 Grapefruit League innings, and it took him only four batters to allow his first regular season homer. Following the trade last season, Happ allowed ten homers in 63.2 innings for a 1.41 HR/9 (12.2% HR/FB), which ain’t good. He managed a 2.69 ERA in those 63.2 innings overall thanks to a 89.7% strand rate that (spoiler alert) he almost certainly will not repeat.
Baltimore’s three-run first inning rally started with a Dwight Smith Jr. double into the right-center field gap. It was a 92 mph fastball right out over the plate in a 1-1 count. The next batter, Trey Mancini, hit a weak grounder to third base for his fourth (!) infield single of the series. That’s just bad luck. Giving Renato Nunez a 93 mph fastball here …
… is not bad luck though. That’s bad execution, especially in a two-strike count. A lifeless four-seamer right down Broadway deserves to be hit into the left field bleachers. Even bad hitters can hit that pitch a long way, and Nunez isn’t too far removed from being a Grade-B prospect, so he might be in the process of becoming #ActuallyGood. The three-run blast gave the Orioles a quick lead, and, for good measure, Chris Davis made the inning’s final out on a ball hit here:
Happ surrendered another home run in the third inning, that one to Mancini on an inside fastball. Not a terrible location! Mancini deserves some credit for getting around on that pitch and driving it out to center field. Still, that’s another home run. Eight in 13.2 innings in 2019 up to that point, including Spring Training.
I suppose the good news is Happ settled down to retire ten of the final 13 batters he faced. The bad news is he needed 75 pitches to get through four innings against the Orioles. The 2019 Orioles! Two different sites tell me Happ generated ten swing and misses with those 75 pitches and that’s ten more than I would’ve guessed. Some other numbers:
- Four-seamers: 43 (91.1 mph average and 93.3 mph max)
- Slider: 20
- Changeups: 11
- Two-seamers: 1
Few more sliders than usual, though I suspect that has to do with the Orioles having three lefty batters in the lineup than Happ consciously scaling back on his fastball usage. We’ll see going forward. The fastball velocity was down a full mile-an-hour from Happ’s start last March, though it was cold and rainy outside, and last year’s March start came in the climate-controlled Rogers Centre. We don’t have live spin rate data, so we can’t see where he fastball was at just yet. Either way, a big dud from Happ.
The Various Comeback Attempts
The Yankees had their chances to make this a ballgame throughout the evening. The third inning went double, walk, pop-up, strikeout, walk, strikeout. Brett Gardner’s first pitch pop-up was pretty deflating there, though the Aaron Judge and Luke Voit strikeouts were the real rally killers. The two and four hitters couldn’t put the ball in play with Dylan Bundy on the ropes. Bummer.
The fourth inning rally was a bit more eventful. Miguel Andujar plopped a single to left-center, then Gary Sanchez struck out. Greg Bird worked a walk, then Gleyber Torres struck out. Sanchez went from up 3-0 in the count to a strikeout and Torres swung through a pitch way up and out of the zone. Poor at-bats, those were. DJ LeMahieu followed with an eight-pitch walk to load the bases and end Bundy’s day. He walked five, struck out seven, and threw 93 pitches in 3.2 innings. I’m quoting myself:
Bundy made two starts against the Yankees last year and allowed nine runs in nine innings. They hit the poor kid hard every time they face him. He’s always approaching 80 innings in the third inning, it seems.
O’s manager Brandon Hyde went to rookie lefty John Means to get the left-on-left matchup against Gardner with the bases loaded — I mistakenly called Means a righty in a series preview because dammit John Means is a righty’s name (Johnnie Means is a lefty’s name) — and Gardy had the Gardyest at-bat that ever Gardyed. Fell behind in the count 2-2 (2-2 is a pitcher’s count!), fouled away five two-strike pitches, and worked an eleven-pitch walk to force in a run and pass the baton. The at-bat:
The baton was passed two Judge, who inside-outed a 92 mph fastball the other way for a two-run single. From my perspective, it looked like it was heading right to Mancini in right field. Fortunately it kept slicing and dunked in. Giancarlo Stanton struck out on three pitches as the next batter to end the inning. Based on his swings, they were the first three changeups Stanton’s seen in his career. Means didn’t even throw a fastball to set them up! Good grief.
Means struck out Judge and Stanton with two runners on base to end the sixth inning, then, in the eighth, Mychal Givens struck out Judge with two runners on base and got Voit to ground out with the bases loaded. The 2-3-4 hitters:
2. Aaron Judge: 1-for-5, 2 RBI, 4 K
3. Giancarlo Stanton: 0-2, 3 BB, 2 K
4. Luke Voit: 1-5, 1 K
The three middle of the order guys going 2-for-12 (.167) with two singles and seven strikeouts won’t win you many games. The Yankees got the right guys to the plate in the right spots. They just didn’t get the results. There will be plenty of days those three put the Yankees on their backs and carry them to a win. This was not one of those days. Also, that Means changeup? He threw it 37 times, the Yankees swung 23 times, and they missed 12 times. Oof.
Unnecessary Insurance Runs
Luis Cessa allowed a pretty dumb insurance run in the fifth inning. Jonathan Villar beat out an infield single — Andujar made a real nice grab going to his right and hung on to the ball (unlike Opening Day) — then Sanchez short-hopped the throw to second on the steal attempt for his second error in as many days, allowing Villar to go to third. And, because the Yankees were compelled to bring their infield in in the fifth inning against the 2019 Orioles, Smith’s soft line drive was over Gleyber’s head at shortstop rather than at his chest. Groan.
Cessa and Stephen Tarpley combined to allow two insurance runs in the eighth. Cessa walked Nunez with one out and Tarpley gave up a short porch two-run home run to Joey Rickard. Two things here. One, I know it’s Joey Rickard, but first base was open with two outs and the left-handed hitting (and extremely bad) Chris Davis was on deck. Why not put Rickard on and pitch to Davis? (To be fair, Tarpley walked Davis on four pitches as the next batter, so maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.)
And two, why was Tarpley even in the game in the first place? The Yankees were down one at the time! Zack Britton warmed up earlier in the game and Chad Green warmed up later, so obviously they were available and at some point the thought crossed Aaron Boone’s mind that using one of his top relievers to keep the game close was worthwhile. I get that you can’t use your top arms every single game, but man. Manage to win when you’re down one run. (Also, don’t give up homers to Joey Rickard maybe?)
Tommy Kahnle’s ninth inning: walk, walk, walk, strikeout, grounder to first (force out at home), strikeout. We call that a “Bad Dellin and Good Dellin in the same inning” outing. Statcast says Kahnle averaged 96.7 mph with his fastball and topped out at 98.3 mph. Last year he averaged 95.5 mph and did not throw a pitch above 96.9 mph. Seeing that velocity from Kahnle on cold night this early in the season is good news, all things considered.
The Yankees did bring the winning run to the plate in the ninth inning. I have no idea why Hyde pushed Givens, their best remaining trade chip, to 1.2 innings and 49 pitches (!) on the second day of back-to-back days on March 31st, but he did. LeMahieu singled in a run to get the Yankees to within 7-5, then pinch-hitter Troy Tulowitzki struck out against lefty Paul Fry to end it, mercifully. I know he hit a homer the other day, but Tulowitzki coming off the bench cold there is pretty much the last guy I want at the plate in that spot. Shrugs.
Seventeen baserunners and only five runs in nine innings is pretty bad! The first part is good. Give me all the baserunners. The second part is bad, the only five runs. Annoying. In the three-game series, the Yankees drew eight, six, and eight walks in the three games. Man, it is going to be a long summer in Baltimore. At least they’ll have this series to hang their hats on.
Game Four and Series Two. The Tigers are coming to the Bronx next for a three-game set. The Yankees have not yet announced their starting pitcher. It’ll either be Domingo German or an opener (Green?). Tyson Ross is going for the Tigers. That game is one of those newfangled 6:35pm ET starts