I forgot for a hot minute how intense those late-season Yankees-Blue Jays games were last year. The Jays are not a team without imperfections (see: their rotation) but they still figure to be a contender for AL East title this season. Tonight’s game was not an easy one to watch for either team’s fans, but thanks to Jacoby Ellsbury’s seventh-inning bloop RBI and a strong bullpen performance, the Yankees took the first game of the three-game series by the score of 3-2.
The Yankee bats were up against a power arm, Aaron Sanchez. After being chosen with the 34th overall pick out of HS in 2010 MLB Draft, Sanchez was a starter in minors, but when he came up, the Blue Jays got him used to pitching in ML as a reliever. After battling for a fifth starter spot in ST, he beat out Gavin Floyd to be a starting pitcher in their rotation.
New York had a scoring chance against him in the bottom of second. Brian McCann walked to lead off and advanced to second on a Carlos Beltran ground out. Chase Headley walked to put two baserunners on and both of them advanced when Sanchez’s pickoff throw to second sailed to outfield. With one out, runners on second and third, Starlin Castro’s ground out scored McCann from third. 1-0 Yankees. When you’re matching up against a division foe, you really want to score a run some way or another. Yankees will gladly take a couple of walks, an errant throw and an RBI ground out to do so. For Sanchez, it didn’t help that his command was rusty early on.
(Gutty) Tanaka Tuesday
You would think that, Masahiro Tanaka, who hasn’t been great with keeping the ball in the ballpark (allowed 28 homers last year), would not be a great matchup versus the Jays. However, in seven career games versus Toronto, Tanaka has held them to a .584 OPS, allowing only 7 walks while striking out 48, which is … pretty good.
Anyways, no matter how successful he’s been against them, it’s never easy facing a lineup like that. From the get-go, in the first, Tanaka walked Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion back-to-back to create a two out, runners on first and second situation. After a full count battle against Troy Tulowitzki, Tanaka got him strikeout swinging on a splitter, needing 29 pitches to get three outs.
At least in the early going, Tanaka seemed like he was pitching for hitters to chase while not being able to finish them off swiftly. For instance, here’s how his matchup versus Russell Martin in second inning:
Pitch 1: Ball above the zone, 90 mph fastball
Pitch 2: Strike on outside corner, 91 mph fastball
Pitch 3: Foul on the inside 88 mph fastball
Pitch 4: Foul on the outside 85 mph splitter
Pitch 5: Ball on just above the zone 85 mph slider
Pitch 6: Foul on inside 83 mph slider
Pitch 7: Foul on the 91 mph fastball on outside corner
Pitch 8: Ball on the outside 78 mph curveball
— Pickoff Throw —
Pitch 9: Foul on the 82 mph slider, bit down the middle
Pitch 10: Swinging strike on 91 mph fastball up
In the third, Tanaka hit Kevin Pillar with a pitch and surrendered a single to Josh Donaldson. Up next, Bautista smoked a hanging slider to deep center for a two-run double. It also didn’t help that Ellsbury got off to a late start to track the ball. Had he seen the ball better, he could have limited the damage to a sac fly; instead, it became 2-1 Jays. However, after a Larry Rothschild mound visit, fortune stood more on Tanaka’s side. He struck out Encarnacion and induced a Chris Colabello double play to get out of the inning without more damage.
Tonight wasn’t Tanaka’s prettiest start but give him credit for this: he bent but didn’t break. After the laborious third, the rest was easier for him. He managed a seven-pitch fourth and allowed only one baserunner (Pillar lead off single) in 14-pitch fifth. And that was the end of his night – 92 pitches, 54 strikes, 5 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K. Not great but all things considered, especially with the walks he allowed, two earned runs in five innings pitched doesn’t sound terrible.
After showing some rocky command to start the game, Sanchez seemed to settle in. From third to fifth, he only allowed two baserunners and protected Toronto’s 2-1 lead. It seemed like he was well on his way to another scoreless inning in the sixth after getting A-Rod and Mark Teixeira out. However, McCann saw a mistake fastball down the middle with full count and drove it to the right field seats to tie the game up at 2-2.
McCann is not usually known as a contact hitter, but so far this season, he’s carried one of the hottest bats in baseball. After tonight, the Yankee catcher has hit for a .500/.591/.889 line in 22 PA’s. He also came off a ST where he hit for a pretty good average too (.333/.366/.436 in 39 AB’s) so I wonder if there were some adjustments made with new hitting coaches.
Bullpen Wars (aka How I Learned to Love the Yankee Bullpen Even Without Chapman)
The Yankees put in Johnny Barbato in the bottom of sixth in relief of Tanaka. I know this may sound like a knee-jerk reaction, but his stuff has late-inning reliever written all over him — power fastball and nice-looking off speed pitches. He needs some big league seasoning, of course, but man, his arm can be something nice to watch.
In the next frame, the Jays put in Brett Cecil, one of their late-inning guys. Headley led off with a single and Castro walked in four pitches. Did Gregorius executed a successful sac bunt to bring two runners into scoring position with one out. In a full count, Ellsbury dunked a blooper right in front of LF Michael Saunders for an RBI single. After misjudging a fly ball earlier in the game to cost Yankees a run, he gave one for the team when it counted. Had the Jays placed the infield back, Donaldson might have had a chance to catch it. 3-2 Yankees.
Chasen Shreve entered in the bottom seventh and got the first two outs. After walking Donaldson, however, Joe Girardi decided to match up Bautista with Dellin Betances. Power against power, Betances against Bautista, Yankees up by one in late innings: pretty fun TV, right? After a full count battle, Betances dropped an absolute filthy curve into the strike zone to win the battle. Goodness gracious what a pitch. Don’t believe me? Just watch:
The Yankees threatened once again in the next frame against Jesse Chavez. After a Teixeira ground out, McCann singled to not only get on base but also to raise his batting average to .500, which is pretty neat. Beltran struck out swinging but Headley singled to left to make it dicey for the Jays. Castro, after putting up a bit of a battle, struck out swinging on a cutter way off the plate. He can hit the ball hard but sometimes, he can make himself foolish like that.
Betances did what was expected of him in the eighth: pure filth. Encarnacion popped out, Tulowitzki struck out swinging on a curve on dirt and Colabello got called out on strikes on (guess what) a curve. They call good curveballs Uncle Charlie. Betances’ tonight was more like Great Uncle Charleston who drinks the finest bourbon on fancy cruise parties, or something like that.
Girardi pulled the usual move and put Andrew Miller to take care of the ninth. The tall lefty struck out Michael Saunders, got Martin to ground out and struck out Justin Smoak to win it for New York. 11 pitches, 9 strikes, 2 strikeouts and immeasurable filth.
The Yankee bullpen: 4 IP, 2 BB, 5 K’s and no hits allowed tonight. Pretty solid.
I mentioned Barbato before but he deserves another mention because tonight was his first career ML victory. Drafted in the 6th round by the Padres (out of Varela HS in Miami, Fl.), he spent five seasons in minors and looks like he found his niche as a bullpen arm that could be useful in ML. Congrats to him.
This is a bit buried since New York won tonight but the top four of the lineup – Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod and Teixeira – were very quiet tonight. They went 2-for-16 combined, which is not ideal. So far in this very young season, these guys are hitting a total combined 18-for-87, which is good for a 0.207 average. Good to see that the team hasn’t faltered much (4-2 in first six games is pretty nice) while they’ve been cold.
Box Score, WPA, Highlights and Updated Standings
The Yankees are back at it again tomorrow in the Rogers Centre. Michael Pineda will take the mound, hoping to pitch a better one than his season debut last week.