Turns out all the Yankees had to do to get their offense going was leave homer happy Yankee Stadium. Four homers and good enough pitching got the Yankees back in the win column in their 2019 road opener Thursday. The final score was 8-4. Hooray for remembering the Orioles are, in fact, bad.
On a day the Yankees could’ve really used a dominant start to get things moving in the right direction, James Paxton came out in the first inning. Paxton’s second pitch went over the fence for a home run — Jonathan Villar reached out and poked a pitch off the plate the other way just inside the foul pole — and eleven of his first 19 pitches were balls. A single and two walks loaded the bases after the homer.
The Yankees gifted the Orioles their second and third runs with unforced errors. Paxton made a funky little move with his hand to balk in a run and move the other two runners up — it kinda looked like he was going to motion to tell Gary Sanchez to go through the signs again, then he changed his mind and brought his hand back — then he bounced a curveball that skipped away and brought home another run. Two walks, a balk, and a wild pitch.
Paxton struck out Joey Rickard and Chris Davis to escape the first inning without further damage, and he did retire 11 of 14 batters at one point. The O’s tagged Paxton for another run in the fifth inning on a Dwight Smith Jr. double to left — did I call that guy being annoying or what? — and a Renato Nunez single back up the middle. The two-out run-scoring single was a letdown. They always are. Paxton was close to stranding the one-out double, but no luck.
The final line: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 HR on 99 pitches. Can’t say I expected the Yankees to let Paxton throw 99 pitches this early in the season, but the bullpen was a little short after Jonathan Loaisiga only went four innings Thursday, so Aaron Boone pushed his starter a little. Paxton finished with 20 swings and misses, seventh most by any pitcher in a game this year, and many of those swings and misses were on pitches in the zone:
Being able to throw fastballs by hitters in the strike zone is a hell of a skill. The Orioles took 40 swings against Paxton’s heater and missed 14 times, or 35.0%. The league average since the start of last season is 20.6% whiffs-per-swing on four-seam fastballs. Paxton was comfortably above that at 26.1% last year and he was way above it Thursday. This was one of those “the starter doesn’t have it but still grinds through 5+ innings” starts. The offense and bullpen picked Paxton up and made it work.
The Sixth Inning Rally
Through five innings Thursday, the Yankees did a whole bunch of nothing against Alex Cobb. Brett Gardner had two ground ball singles, Gleyber Torres hit a solo home run in the third, and Torres shot a double into the right field corner in the fifth. That was pretty much it for five innings. The Yankees finally broke through in the sixth. Let’s annotate the play-by-play for the first time this season, shall we?
(1) Sanchez has turned #TooManyHomers into #AlmostOnlyHomers in the early going this year. He is 5-for-23 (.217) with three solo home runs so far (.609 SLG). More homers than all other hits combined would be kinda fun. Much like the first Torres homer, Cobb left a splitter up in the zone to Sanchez, and Gary swatted it to dead center field. After watching a 109.2 mph line drive and a 107.5 mph fly ball go for outs in his first two at-bats, the 109.3 mph fly ball would not be kept in the park. Sanchez, Nelson Cruz, and Javy Baez are the only players with three 107+ mph batted balls in a single game so far this season. Two teams (Angels and Reds) do not have three 107+ mph batted balls all year. They have two each despite the presence of Mr. Trout and Mr. Votto, respectively.
(2) This was the quintessential DJ LeMahieu at-bat. Fell behind in the count 0-2, fouled away a pitch, worked it back full, then found a hole with a well-struck (96.3 mph) ground ball. LeMahieu works the count well but he doesn’t walk a whole lot because he makes so much contact. That is pretty much exactly what happened there and it is the exact opposite of most Yankees. Most hitters on the roster will work the count, swing-and-miss a bunch, and hit for power. LeMahieu works the count, rarely swings and misses, and slaps singles.
(3) Unquestionably the biggest hit on the young season. The Yankees have been desperately waiting for someone, anyone, to come up with a big game and a huge hit. Torres provided both. His second home run of the game was a three-run go-ahead blast. To the action footage:
The swing-and-miss was a 93.8 mph fastball. The home run was a 94.6 mph fastball in the same spot. The pitch was not supposed to be there, but Torres was ready for it after seeing it earlier in the at-bat. One homer against Cobb and one homer against Wright. This is the first four-hit game and the first three-extra-base hit game of Gleyber’s career, and his first two-homer game since last August 1st, when he went deep against … Alex Cobb and Mike Wright. Baseball is a flat circle.
(4) Five straight hits? In this economy?? The sixth inning was not only the first time the Yankees had five consecutive hits in an inning this season. It’s the first time they’ve had as many as three consecutive hits since the Aaron Judge single/Giancarlo Stanton single/Luke Voit homer stretch against Andrew Cashner in the first inning on Opening Day. Let’s do more of these, mmmkay?
The Short Bullpen
Loaisiga’s short start Thursday meant both Jonathan Holder and Chad Green had to throw two innings. Adam Ottavino pitched four times in the first six games, and based on their bullpen usage Thursday, the Yankees didn’t want to make it five times in seven games. That meant Tommy Kahnle would have to get important outs. He entered with a runner on first and one out in the sixth and his ten pitches that inning went:
ball (walk to put runners on first and second)
6-4-3 double play (inning over)
Things went from real bad — Luis Cessa was warming up in case Kahnle walked the bases loaded — to real good in a hurry. Kahnle stayed in to pitch the seventh inning as well and that one was much less eventful. Three up, three down on 15 pitches. Against the top of the order too. Hell yeah high-leverage Tommy Tightpants.
Former Oriole Zack Britton made a bit of a mess in the eighth inning — a walk and a single put two on with two outs — but was able to pitch out of it. Hanser Alberto had the single. He was a Yankee for about two months between waiver claims in the offseason, and he pinch-hit for Chris Davis. Davis went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the game and is 0-for-17 with eleven strikeouts this season. The Orioles owe him $92M through 2022. What a mess.
Aroldis Chapman was warming up for the ninth inning when Voit gave the Yankees some much needed insurance with a three-run home run to right field. A Tyler Wade infield single and a Gardner walk set that up. Here’s what I wrote ahead of time for the recap, not expecting Voit to get that one last at-bat in the ninth:
Luke Voit went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and is 0-for-15 dating back to the last game of the first Orioles series. More like Fluke Voit amirite? I kid, I kid. But seriously, snap out of it dude.
Voit’s home run stretched the lead to 8-4 and, because he was already warmed up and there’s an off-day Friday, Chapman pitched the ninth inning anyway. He allowed a soft leadoff single to center before getting the final three outs. Since I know you’re wondering, Chapman averaged 96.2 mph and topped out at 97.4 mph with his fastball.
Four strikeouts and a ground out for Aaron Judge. He’s sporting a 41.9% strikeout rate in the early going. Remember when the no-stride swing was going to help him cut down on strikeouts without sacrificing power? Good times. Spring Training is full of lies, folks. Believe nothing. First hitless game of the year for Judge. He reached base multiple times in five of the first six games.
Every starter had at least one hit except Judge. Gleyber had four hits (single, double, two homers) and Gardner reached base three times (two singles, walk). Greg Bird (single, two walks) reached base three times as well. Twelve hits is a new season-high. Seven strikeouts is a new season-low. The Yankees went 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position and the two hits drove in six total runs. Long live dingers.
This was the O’s home opener, so Friday is the “off-day after Opening Day in case Opening Day get rained out” off-day. Good timing too. It’s supposed to rain pretty much all day Friday. The Yankees and Orioles will be back at it Saturday night with a 7pm ET game (groan). J.A. Happ and Dylan Bundy are the scheduled starting pitchers.