YANKEES 4, RAYS 3
Right-handed starters Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi held Tampa Bay scoreless through five innings – combining to strike out seven batters – while Alex Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with his first RBI of spring as New York rolled to victory on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Pineda, 26, made his first start of the spring and held the Rays to a first-inning single by Desmond Jennings and he fanned two in 25-pitch outing in which he threw 17 strikes.
Eovaldi, 25, entered in the third inning and yielded three hits with no walks and five strikeouts in his second outing in Grapefruit League play.
Pineda (1-0) got credit for the victory and reliever Chris Martin hurled a scoreless eighth inning while fanning two batters to earn a save. Rays starter Nathan Karns (0-1) was tagged for two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in three innings to take the loss.
With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 5-2.
Pineda’s major-league career has been a series of giant strides forward with periods of two steps back. He hopes 2015 just moves him forward after having his 2012 and 2013 seasons wiped away after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Last season Pineda was supposed to be healthy and ready to show the Yankees for whom they had traded after Pineda’s rookie season in 2011, when he was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA with the Seattle Mariners.
After a promising 2-2 record with a 1.83 ERA in his first four starts last season, Pineda found himself suspended by Major League Baseball for 10 days after being ejected from a late April game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park with pine tar on his neck.
While Pineda was preparing to return from the suspension he severely tore the teres major muscle in his surgically repaired shoulder. He was shelved until the middle of August. Once again, Pineda showed the Yankees what they missed most of the year.
Pineda ended up 3-3 with a 1.91 ERA in those final nine starts. What sets Pineda apart from a lot of pitchers is that he can strike out a lot of batters (8.43 per nine innings) and at the same time his control is so precise (0.83 walks per nine innings). Both marks are Yankee records.
So 2015 begins with Pineda again primed for a big season and the Yankees are holding their breath that he can stay healthy enough to make 33 starts.
His first step on that road was Monday and Pineda looked very sharp in his first game action of the spring.
“This is what I want. I’m working hard everyday to be healthy and make it a good year, and help my team,” Pineda told reporters.
“I thought he looked great,” catcher Brian McCann told reporters. “The ball’s coming out with the same velocity, with some cut. He threw a couple of change-ups that were really nice that had some good action. His slider was there as well.”
So with his first test out of the way, Pineda can now look to take more small incremental steps throughout the rest of the spring. He hopes all is pointing forward because he refuses to takes any more steps back.
- Seeing Pineda pitch well and watching Eovaldi record five strikeouts in his outing had to be encouraging for manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The pair are two important pieces in the Yankees’ rotation plans for the 2015 season. Pineda could pair with staff ace Masahiro Tanaka to form the best tandem in the American League East. Eovaldi somehow only struck out 142 batters in 199 2/3 innings despite having electric stuff. Seeing Eovaldi strike out five means that he is elevating pitches as Rothschild has urged him to do.
- Rodriguez began his day getting rousing cheers from Yankee fans and derisive jeers from Rays fans as he stepped in for his first at-bat. By the end of the day, Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with an RBI. It was his RBI single in the second inning off Karns that opened the scoring for the Yankees. In the early going, A-Rod is 4-for-9 (.444) with two walks in four games. Though it remains unlikely that Rodriguez will win any job other than as the right-handed part of a platoon designated hitter situation, the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player is playing as if he wants to push Girardi into giving him a larger role.
- Hot-hitting first-base prospect Greg Bird, 22, and outfielder Slade Heathcott added RBI singles off right-hander Kirby Yates in the seventh inning to extend the Yankees lead to 4-1. Bird is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs. Both Bird and 22-year-old outfield Aaron Judge are serving notice to Girardi that they want to play in the majors and soon. Neither will make the team but both are making great impressions with the coaches and their teammates.
- Right-hander Diego Moreno, 27, blew the shutout and yielded three runs on two hits and a walk in the eighth inning. Eugenio Velez and Jake Elmore each collected RBI singles in the inning.
- Carlos Beltran, 37, extended his hitless string this spring after going 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Beltran is 0-for-7 overall and his swing looks slow and mechanical. The Yankees are counting on Beltran to produce power and production from the No. 3 spot in the order.
The Yankees trotted out a lineup that could be a preview of their starting lineup when the season opens. The lineup featured outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Brett Gardner (LF) and Beltran (RF) in the top three spots with first baseman Mark Teixeira, McCann (C), Rodriguez (DH) and Chase Headley (3B). It also had Stephen Drew (2B) and Didi Gregorius (SS) in the bottom two spots. . . . Right-handed pitcher Luis Severino was diagnosed with strep throat on Monday. The 21-year-old No. 1 prospect in the organization struck out three batters in 1 1/3 innings of work on Saturday. On Sunday he complained of flu-like symptoms and was sent to a local hospital for tests. It is unclear if Severino will miss his next assignment.
The Yankees will travel to Sarasota, FL, for their first meeting of the season with the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, will make his first start and his second appearance for the Yankees. Right-hander Esmil Rogers is also scheduled to pitch. The Yankees plan to send their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Headley.
The Orioles plan to counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by MLB Network at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.