YANKEES, TWINS 3
Just six days ago the Yankees raised eyebrows when they called up 22-year-old first baseman Greg Bird. After the performance he put on Wednesday in place of the injured Mark Teixeira it is now clear just why they called him up.
Bird not only hit one two-run blast for his first Major-League home run, the rookie added another two-run homer that proved to be the game-winner as New York completed a sweep of Minnesota in front of a paid crowd of 38,066 at Yankee Stadium.
With right-hander Nathan Eovaldi pitching a perfect game through five innings, Bird provided him with some early support by connecting in the fourth inning on a 0-1 change-up from right-hander Ervin Santana and launching it into the second deck of the right-field bleachers to score Carlos Beltran, who had singled, to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately for Eovaldi and the Yankees, it was not enough.
The Twins not only broke up the perfect game in the sixth inning. They also sent nine men to the plate and took the lead.
Chris Herrmann started the uprising with a one-out bloop single behind third base. Shane Robinson followed with a hard-hit single to left and Aaron Hicks advanced both base-runners on a groundout.
Eovaldi walked Brian Dozier to load the bases and Joe Mauer followed with a two-run single to right. Eovaldi then walked Miguel Sano to reload the bases and Trevor Plouffe scored Dozier on an infield roller between home plate and third base.
Santana was sailing despite giving up the two-run homer to Bird in the fourth. He held the Yankees to two runs on five hits and no walks with four strikeouts through 5 2/3 innings until he walked Beltran in the sixth inning.
That allowed Bird to come up to the plate. Santana threw him 1-0 fastball and Bird laced it on a high line drive into the Yankees bullpen in right-center to allow the Yankees to reclaim a 4-3 lead.
After Bird rounded the bases and headed into the dugout most of the Yankees fans were on their feet urging the rookie to take his first Yankee Stadium curtain call. After some fevered encouragement from his teammates, Bird came out to tip his cap to the crowd quickly.
“We’re just trying to win games here and anything I can do to help, that’s all I’m trying to do. Nothing more, nothing less,” Bird told reporters.
Eovaldi (13-2) ended up collecting his eighth victory in a row and he is undefeated his past 11 starts. He was charged with three runs on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings.
Santana (2-4) pitched 7 2/3 innings but took the loss after giving up four runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
With the Yankees bullpen without the services of Andrew Miller after he pitched in two consecutive games, left-hander Chasen Shreve and right-hander Dellin Betances combined to preserve the victory for Eovaldi by each pitching one scoreless inning.
Betances threw perfect ninth and struck out two batters to earn his eighth save of the season in 11 chances. His two strikeouts gave him 101 on the season and he became the first Yankees relief pitcher to ever strike out 100 or more batters in two consecutive seasons.
With the three-game sweep the Yankees also completed the season series with the Twins at 5-1. Since 2002, the Yankees have a record of 69-27 against the Twins – a .281 winning percentage for the Twins. That percentage is the worst in baseball for any team against any opponent (minimum 50 games).
The Yankees also also have won six of their past seven games and they are now 67-52 this season. Coupled with the loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies the Yankees have extended their lead in the American League East to two games.
The Twins fell to 59-61.
- I could tell when I saw Bird’s spring during the exhibition season that he was going to be something special. You can see why he has a combined minor-league average of .282 with 48 home runs in just over 1,200 at-bats. His swing is similar to former Blue Jays first baseman John Olerud and he might end up as a similar type of hitter. The question will be what do the Yankees do with Bird as long Teixeira is playing first base and Alex Rodriguez is the designated hitter?
- Eovaldi was simply lights out for five innings and then he ran into a lot of bad luck. Only one of the four hits was hit hard. But he did make things worse by walking Dozier and Sano. Now that Eovaldi is succeeding with his split-finger fastball, he is becoming a very good pitcher. Despite the great run support he has received, Eovaldi has earned his 13 victories.
- Betances stepped back into the closer’s role and did not miss a beat. If Betances had pitched better during spring training and early in the season, he would have likely been the closer. But you can’t argue with Miller’s 27 saves in 28 chances. Of the two I suspect teams fear Betances more. But they both are pretty devastating.
- Rodriguez ended an 0-for-18 slide on Tuesday with a grand slam home run that proved to be the game-winning hit. But on Wednesday it was back into a funk for the DH. He was 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. His season average has now dipped to .259.
- John Ryan Murphy has been hitting well (.282) when he starts to give Brian McCann a rest. But Wednesday was not one of those days. He was 0-for-3 and struck out all three times.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will make a second rehab start on Friday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Wednesday. Pineda, 26, has been on the 15-day disabled list since July 30 with a right forearm strain. He is 9-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 19 starts. Girardi said the he hopes this will be Pineda’s final rehab start and they would to activate him before Sept. 1.
The Yankees will play host to the Cleveland Indians for a four-game weekend series that begins on Thursday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (5-4, 3.57 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Nova defeated the Blue Jays on Friday, limiting them to three runs on five hits and one walk with three strikeouts in seven innings.
Right-hander Josh Tomlin (0-1, 2.84 ERA) will be making only his second start of the season for the Indians coming off shoulder surgery. Tomlin yielded two runs on five hits with five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Twins on Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
TWINS 3, YANKEES 1
Eduardo Escobar doubled and homered and left-hander Tommy Milone held the Yankees to one run over six innings as Minnesota edged New York on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, FL.
Escobar stroked a two-out double off Masahiro Tanaka (1-2) in the third inning and scored on Chris Herrmann’s RBI single to stake the Twins to a 1-0 lead. After the Yankees tied the score in the fourth on Ramon Flores’ two out single scoring Chris Young, Eric Fryer followed a one-out double by Adam Walker II and a Shane Robinson single with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning that gave the Twins a lead they would not relinquish.
Escobar added a solo home run off Tanaka to lead off the fifth inning, his fifth homer of the spring.
Meanwhile. Milone (1-1), who is slated to be the Twins’ fifth starter, controlled the Yankees on four hits and two walks while he struck out five batters in his longest outing of the spring.
With the loss the Yankees’ Grapefruit League record dropped to 15-13.
- Although Flores is just 9-for-40 (.225) this spring, he has made those few hits count. He was 2-for-4 on Tuesday with two singles and he drove in the team’s lone score of the day. To prove how weak the Yankees’ offense has been this spring, Flores leads the team in RBIs with eight. Flores, 24, is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he likely would be the first outfielder called up should the Yankees have an injury at that position.
- Right-handed reliever Chris Martin, 28, entered play on Tuesday with 0-1 record and a 5.63 ERA in nine spring appearances. But he looked impressive after relieving Tanaka with one out in the fifth inning. He retired all five batters he faced and fanned two in an outing that took only 22 pitches – 17 for strikes. It impressed manager Joe Girardi, who told reporters that the former Rockie showed a “good downhill angle, good breaking ball – really good.”
- Brett Gardner has not had a very good spring but he was 1-for-2 with a single and a walk. However, he was the only Yankees’ projected starter who made the trip. The Twins played a night game on Monday and used only two starters in their lineup. It used to be a unwritten agreement by teams in Florida that they would bring at least three starters to exhibition games. The home team usually played most of its starters. That somehow has gone by the wayside all this spring. I honestly believe people who are paying good money for spring training tickets are getting ripped off. I believe I am going to have to write a letter to the new commissioner about it. If you have time, you do the same.
- Tanaka was raked pretty good in what was his last tuneup before opening the season on April 6 at Yankee Stadium again the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka gave up three runs on six hits and no walks while struck out just one in 4 1/3 innings. Half the hits were for extra bases. I will tell you a dirty little secret the Yankees are not telling you. Much like Dellin Betances, Tanaka has pitched with less velocity this spring. He has averaged around 89 miles per hour, but has been able to get up to about 93 mph on occasion. It is not a real worry because Tanaka is more of a “pitcher” than just a “thrower,” but it may explain why he got hit a bit on Tuesday.
- Milone entered the game with an 0-1 record and a 4.50 ERA but the Yankees managed to make him look like Cliff Lee. Of course, with all but one the Yankees’ starters back in Tampa, FL, that was likely going to be the result. To show you how bad the lineup was, Austin Romine, who was just 4-for-25 (.160) entering the contest, was batting fifth. As expected, Romine was 1-for-3 with a strikeout and is now hitting . 143.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius is experiencing some swelling in his left wrist and likely will not play on Wednesday as expected, Girardi told reporters on Tuesday. Gregorius injured the wrist diving for a ground ball in the second inning of Saturday’s 10-2 loss at home against the Baltimore Orioles. He left the game in the fifth inning to undergo X-rays and an MRI, which showed there was no structural damage to the wrist. Gregorius is 12-for-40 (.300) this spring. . . . Center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was 2-for-5 in a minor-league game in Tampa on Tuesday and he likely will return to the Yankees’ lineup on Wednesday. Ellsbury has been sidelined since March 15 with a strained oblique.
The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday to play host to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, who is 0-0 with a 0.79 ERA in six appearances (one start) will open the game for the Yankees. Whitley is among a group of relievers trying to nail down one of two bullpen spots.
The Rays have elected not to pitch any of their regular starters against a division rival either. Instead they will open with left-handed reliever Jordan Norberto, who is 1-0 with a 4.82 ERA in six appearances.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live on the YES Network and on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at midnight on Thursday.