YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2
Sometimes it takes a couple of Lone Star State boys to take care of some Texas-sized problems. On Friday both right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and outfielder Chris Young did just that for the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.
Houston-born Eovaldi threw six innings of two-run baseball and Houston-born Young’s three-run home run with one out in the seventh gave New York a hard-fought comeback victory over the Astros in front of a paid crowd of 37,748.
Though Eovaldi (7-2) pitched well, the Astros were still able to touch him for single runs in the third and sixth innings.
Hank Conger laced a one-out double to left-center in the third inning and one out later Carlos Correa scored him on a single to center.
The Astros added a run in the sixth on a one-out infield single by Jose Altuve and a stolen base, which set up a two-out bloop RBI single to center by Evan Gattis.
Meanwhile, right-hander Vincent Velasquez held the Yankees scoreless for six innings on just three hits and one walk with two strikeouts.
But the Yankees got a one-out opposite-field single from Carlos Beltran in the seventh and Garrett Jones followed with a bloop single to right.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch replaced Velasquez with right-hander Will Harris, who entered the game with a 0.78 ERA.
Young, who attended nearby Bellaire High School and entered the at-bat 41-for-103 (.398) with eight home runs at Minute Maid Park in his career, blasted a 1-1 fastball well into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees their first lead in the four-game series.
Left-handers Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson and right-hander Dellin Betances held the Astros hitless the rest of the way to preserve the victory for Eovaldi, who attended nearby Alvin High School just as Hall of Fame right-hander Nolan Ryan did.
In fact, Ryan (who was in attendance at the game) and Eovaldi are the only two products of that high school to play Major League Baseball.
Betances threw 1 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball to earn his fifth save six chances this season.
Velasquez was charged with two runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings but Harris (4-1) was charged with the loss.
Eovaldi held the Astros to five hits and two walks while he struck six to record his second consecutive quality start.
With the victory the Yankees improved they season record to 40-34 and they climbed to with a half game of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Astros dropped to 43-33.
- Young added a single the eighth inning to end his evening 3-for-4 with two singles, a homer, a run scored and three RBIs. He now is 43-for-105 (.410) at Minute Maid Park. He also extended his hitting streak to nine games. In that span, Young is 17-for-34 (.500) with two homers and eight RBIs. Though Young’s role is primarily to hit against left-handers, injuries to outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mason Williams have forced the Yankees to use him in an everyday role and Young is responding.
- Eovaldi surpassed his career high in victories with the decision and in his past two outings he has yielded four runs on eight hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings. That has lowered his season ERA to 4.81. It also has saved his job because right-hander Adam Warren has been shifted back to the bullpen.
- Betances came in the eighth with two out and pinch-runner Marwin Gonzalez on first after Wilson walked Luis Valbuena. Though Gonzalez stole second, Betances fanned Gattis to end the threat and then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his fifth save in place of injured left-hander Andrew Miller. Betances is 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA and has 61 strikeouts in just 37 1/3 innings.
- The rookie right-hander Velasquez had never made it past the fifth inning in any of his three previous starts. But once again the Yankees were unable to solve a pitcher they had not faced before and made him look better than he really was. The Yankees could not lay off his fastball up and out of the strike zone and subsequently they popped up and flied out 11 times in the first six innings.
- Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann combined to go 0-for-8 in the game. With Alex Rodriguez out the lineup resting, the two just could do nothing right at the plate. Among Teixeira’s outs was a strikeout and a crucial double play he hit into with Brett Gardner at first in the sixth inning. The twin-killing came on a 3-1 pitch.
The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the Astros on Saturday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-3, 3.17 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off his worst outing of the season last Saturday when he gave up seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits in five innings against the Detroit Tigers. Tanaka has never faced the Astros.
The Astros will send out left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (2-1, 2.81 ERA). Oberholtzer had a no-decision on Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels. He yielded two runs on four hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. Oberholtzer is 0-2 with a 4.96 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, ASTROS 0
KISSIMMEE – Chase Headley pounded out three hits, including his third home run of the spring, and drove in three runs to support Nathan’s Eovaldi’s strong 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball as New York blanked Houston on Sunday at Osceola County Stadium.
Headley got the Yankees’ offense started against right-hander Scott Feldman (0-2) with a two-out solo home run in the third inning that hit the top of the right-field field wall and bounced over. He later broke the game wide open in the sixth with a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander James Hoyt that drove in two runs to cap a four-run rally and extend the Yankees’ lead to 7-0.
Meanwhile, newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) continued a string of impressive appearances this spring by shutting down the Astros on just three hits. He did not walk a batter and he fanned five.
For the Yankees it was their second consecutive road shutout of the spring. On Friday, the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 in a game called in the sixth inning due to rain.
With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 15-12.
The Yankees have historically leaned towards trading away young pitchers and acquiring veteran pitchers on the north side of 30.
There are many examples of young pitchers the Yankees traded before they became stars like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Ted Lilly and Ian Kennedy. Just this winter the Yankees traded David Phelps and Shane Greene. It is just something for which Yankee fans have grown accustomed.
The script got flipped, however, when veteran infielder Martin Prado and Phelps were packaged to the Miami Marlins in a trade for first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, Eovaldi, a 25-year-old right-hander, and a promising 22-year-old right-hander Domingo German.
Basketball coaches always say that you can’t teach size and baseball managers say accordingly that you can’t teach a pitcher velocity. Eovaldi has a gifted right arm that possesses outstanding velocity. His fastball can reach as high as 98 miles per hour.
In fact, FanGraphs.com ranked Eovaldi’s fastball as the fourth highest in velocity last season among major-league pitchers. The oddity was Eovaldi led all National League pitchers in hits allowed (223) and he only managed 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.
His 6-14 record and 4.37 ERA also would have you scratching your head after you saw that sizzling heater of his.
So Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild did some tinkering with Eovaldi’s fastball and his secondary pitches this spring to bring his hits allowed down and raise his strikeout totals. In short, they want him to take the next step in being a dominant pitcher.
After Sunday’s sterling effort, it appears that Eovaldi – with Rothschild’s help – is doing just that. In Eovaldi’s four spring appearances (three starts) he is 1-1 with a team-best 0.66 ERA. He has yielded just one run on 10 hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
If you add a potentially dominant Eovaldi to 26-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and 26-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda then you might have an excellent trio of young starters to build a team around.
But don’t just take my word on Eovaldi. You can hear it from a fellow graduate of his from Alvin High School in Alvin, TX, who was watching Eovaldi on Sunday in his role as an executive advisor to the Astros – some guy named Nolan Ryan.
“I haven’t watched him in person, only on television, but I’ve followed him ever since he’s been in high school,” Ryan told reporters. “I really think that the better part of his career is still ahead of him.”
The Yankees might just have something special in this young Eovaldi. And the best part is he is not 34 years old and past his prime.
- I really ripped this team for how bad they looked on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, against the Baltimore Orioles in a 10-2 loss. But they bounced back nicely on Sunday and scored seven runs and collected 11 hits and drew seven walks. But he oddity this spring is that the Yankees are 8-5-1 and have outscored their opponents 77-44 on the road while they are 7-7 and have been outscored 64-46 at home. This may be because the young players have been doing most of the hitting this spring and they are playing more on the road.
- In addition to Headley’s three hits, the Yankees got another stellar effort at the plate from Rob Refsnyder. The 24-year-old second baseman was 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs scored and an RBI. Refsnyder is now 12-for-35 (.343) with five doubles, one home run and five RBIs. He is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he does need to get better in the field, but this young player has all the makings of a great hitter.
- Esmil Rogers, 29, may have blown his opportunity to be the team’s No. 5 starter this spring. But he still has some value in the bullpen. Rogers looked sharp in retiring all five batters he faced and he fanned two of them.
I will not nitpick this one. If you toss shutout ball and score seven runs there is not much there to fix.
Alex Rodriguez made his major-league debut as a first baseman on Sunday and handled three chances flawlessly in his three innings of work. Manager Joe Girardi envisions Rodriguez as potential fill-in at first base behind starter Mark Teixeira and Jones. “Catching the ball, I’m not worried about that. I’d think he’d be pretty good around the bag, even scooping, because you get a lot of those hot shots at third base,” Girardi told reporters. . . . Teixeira suffered a right knee contusion on Sunday playing in a minor-league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa. Teixeira left the game immediately and was limping afterward. But he told reporters that he was “fine.” . . . Shortstop Didi Gregorius received treatment and said there was improvement in his strained left wrist that he sustained in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Gregorius said he is sure he will be ready to play on Opening Day. . . . The Yankees released right-hander Scott Baker but they hope to re-sign him to a new minor-league contract. Baker, 33, originally was signed to a deal that would have forced the Yankees to pay him a retention bonus. The Yankees would like Baker to sign a minor-league deal without the bonus. That is the same basis they re-signed right-hander Jared Burton on Sunday. Burton, 33, had been released three days ago. He only pitched in four games this spring because he suffered a strained lat. In addition to the Burton signing, the Yankees also optioned right-hander Bryan Mitchell to Scranton and sent right-hander Kyle Davies to minor-league camp. The team also optioned outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A and re-assigned catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka, infielders Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez, outfielder Slade Heathcott, left-hander Jacob Lindgren and right-hander Nick Rumbelow to minor-league camp.
The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their final week of spring training games on Tuesday at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, FL, as the Yankees play the Minnesota Twins.
Tanaka will make what will be his final spring appearance before he opens the season on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his three spring starts.
The Twins will counter with left-hander Tommy Milone, who is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the MLB Network.