YANKEES 2, PIRATES 1
Tyler Austin preserved a 1-1 tie with his arm in the sixth inning and then handed New York its first Grapefruit League victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday with a solo home run to lead off the eighth at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.
Austin fielded a single in right-field off the bat of Deibinson Romero in the bottom of the sixth inning and threw out Jeff Decker at home plate right after Decker had tied up the game with an RBI single that scored Willy Garcia from second base.
Two innings later, Austin blasted a tape-measure home run into the left-field stands off right-hander Deolis Guerra (0-1) that broke the 1-1 tie and eventually stood up as the game-winning run.
Left-hander Fred Lewis (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Taylor Garrison pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
With all the early buzz in camp about 22-year-old right-fielder Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 size and his tremendous power potential, you could not blame Austin for feeling like a forgotten man.
Austin, 23, was once among what looked to be a golden group of young outfielders the Yankees had in the minor leagues. They included Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Austin. In many circles, Austin was considered the cream of the crop.
While myriad injuries, off-field problems and poor performance have plagued Heathcott, Flores and Williams, Austin has had his share of misfortune also.
Austin was not a heralded 13th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but he had thrust himself into hot prospect status by batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in 110 games in four minor-league stops in 2012. He was named the organization’s best minor league player that season.
In 2013, he sustained both a thumb and a wrist injury that limited the right-handed hitter to a .265 average with six homers and 40 RBIs in 85 games in two minor-league assignments. Though he was injured, he remained the team’s third-rated prospect entering 2014.
Instead of getting untracked at Double-A Trenton, Austin slumped to a .275 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games. The thumb injury he suffered in 2013 was still an issue, robbing him of his ability to hit the ball with authority.
As a result, he entered camp in 2015 as the team’s No. 15 prospect and Judge has shot past him to No. 5. So it has been Judge who has been getting all the attention early while Austin has quietly tried to put the injuries behind him and recover his patented line-drive stroke.
At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds Austin may not have the imposing stature of Judge. But if he can put up some good numbers this spring and have a rebound 2015 season, Austin might just get re-establish himself as a up-and-coming prospect again.
After Thursday’s throw from right-field and his game-winning home run it appears that Austin is well on his way to reopening some eyes in the organization. He obviously is hoping more of those days will come.
- Both right-handed starter Emil Rogers and fellow right-hander Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, only yielded a two-out double to South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang in the second inning. He fanned one and did not issue a walk in a 28-pitch outing. Whitley, 25, surrendered two hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter as he also threw 28 pitches. Both pitchers are eventually slated for the bullpen, but manager Joe Girardi wants Rogers, Whitley, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to be stretched out as starters in case the Yankees opt for a sixth starter early in the season or if they are needed to start in case of an injury.
- Former Pirate Garrett Jones started at first base and was 2-for-2 with a double and he drove in the team’s first run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the fifth inning. Jones, 33, followed Chris Young’s two-out double with a hit that was scored as a double. Jones actually hit a routine fly ball that dropped between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.
- Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, 23, has a horrible debut in Tuesday’s opener against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. But he atoned for that on Thursday by going 2-for-3 against the Pirates. Refsnyder doubled to right in the second off starter Francisco Liriano but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a triple on a perfect relay from Rodriguez to third baseman Justin Sellers. He then added an infield single in the fourth off right-hander Charlie Morton that loaded the bases with two outs. However, Cito Culver ended the threat with a weak popout.
I am going to give the Yankees a pass in this one because they managed to put together nine hits after collecting just five in their home opener on Wednesday. The pitching, led by Rogers and Whitley, also held the Pirates to just one run. On defense, the Yankees threw out two runners on the basepaths. All things considered it was a good effort.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention of issuing the title of captain to any Yankee in the near term. In fact, he even added that he thought retired shortstop Derek Jeter, who held the honor for 12 seasons, should be the last Yankee captain. “From my chair, it’s not something I think we have to fill,” Cashman said to reporters. . . . Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, is scheduled to play in right-field for the team’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates on Friday. It will the first game action for Beltran, who played in only 109 games last season due to a bone spur and three bone chips in his right elbow. As a result, Beltran batted a career low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. So Beltran underwent surgery to repair the elbow last September. “I feel pretty good, making improvement every day,” Beltran told reporters. “I’m taking a lot of swings like I used to in the past in spring training. The elbow feels good.”
The Yankees will play on Friday in the first of what will be three scheduled split-squad games.
In the afternoon, the Yankees will play the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. It will be their third meeting with the Phillies in the past four days.
The Yankees will start Mitchell, a 23-year-old right-hander who was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 of them starts) at two minor-league stops before making his major-league debut with the Yankees. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one of them as a spot starter).
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley will be among the group of players who will play in the game.
The Phillies will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, 31, who was 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. Rumors claim that the Phillies are shopping Hamels for a trade before the end of spring training.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
The Yankees also on Friday will host the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, for what will the team’s first night tilt this spring.
Left-hander Chris Capuano, 36, will get his first start of the spring. Capuano was 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees after he was acquired last July from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. He also is the favorite to become the team’s No. 5 starter this spring.
Alex Rodriguez, coming off his excellent debut on Wednesday, will serve as the team’s designated hitter in the game.
The Pirates have scheduled 27-year-old left-hander Jeff Locke to start. Locke is competing to be the team’s No. 5 starter after going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live via MLB Radio through station KDKA in Pittsburgh.
PIRATES 8, YANKEES 2
TAMPA – Mel Rojas Jr. blasted a three-run homer as part of a five-run eighth inning on Thursday as Pittsburgh spoiled New York’s Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Rojas’ home into the right-field bleachers came off losing pitcher Robert Coello (0-1). Matt Hague followed Rojas’ game-winner with a two-run single.
Reliever Yao-Hsun Yang (1-0) pitched a scoreless seventh inning to get credit for the victory.
Top outfield prospect Gregory Polanco cranked a solo home run in the first inning and former Yankee Chris Dickerson added an RBI single in the sixth inning for Pittsburgh.
The Yankees scored their first tally in the fifth inning when Francisco Cervelli slapped a leadoff single and Kelly Johnson scored him with a double to right-center. The Yankees then tied it an inning later when John Ryan Murphy stroked a two-out RBI single to score Adonis Garcia.
An announced crowd of 7,763 saw the spring debut of Derek Jeter, who was playing in his first major-league game since Sept. 7, 2013. Jeter played five innings and was 0-for-2 in the game, hitting into a double play and grounding out.
The Yankees are 0-2 on the spring with both losses coming to the Pirates.
- Although he was tagged for Polanco’s homer in the first, David Phelps looked very sharp in his two innings of work. Phelps gave up two hits but fanned four batters, all looking, and walked none in his first outing of the spring. Phelps is trying to earn the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation and he fared well in throwing 20 of his 30 pitches for strikes.
- Brett Gardner started in left-field and batted leadoff going 1-for-2 with a infield single and a walk. Though Jacoby Ellsbury will be the team’s leadoff hitter this season, Gardner looks primed for a good season batting ninth. Gardner was recently rewarded with a four-year, $52 million extension to his contract.
- Johnson’s RBI double in the fifth inning opened the scoring for the Yankees. Though Johnson, 32, has primarily been a second baseman most in his career, he is expected to get the bulk of the starts at third base this season while Alex Rodriguez sits out his season-long suspension. Johnson batted .235 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs in 116 games with the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
- Coello was tagged for five runs on five hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Coello, 29, was signed out of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. He was 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA in 16 games at two minor-league stops before coming up to the Dodgers and going 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA in 16 games, all in relief. As he showed on Thursday, he has problems with command. In 36 2/3 innings of relief last seasons, Coello walked 19 batters.
- The Yankees scored four runs in their first two innings against the Pirates on Wednesday. Since then they have scored two runs on eight hits in their past 16 innings. After hitting into two double plays on Wednesday, the Yankees hit into four more on Thursday.
After the game Jeter told reporters that he has not felt this good in a year and he was glad to get this first game out of the way. “I haven’t played in a game in quite some time,” Jeter said. “Today was the first time I’ve swung off of live pitching. It’s good to get the first game out of the way and get into a routine of playing games.” Jeter played in 17 games last season due to a series of leg injuries related to surgically repaired left ankle. . . . The Yankees opened their spring home schedule by playing in their regular-season home uniforms with the pinstripes. They also introduced a group of Yankee legends including Willie Randolph, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry and David Wells. The George M. Steinbrenner High School Band also performed for the crowd. . . . The Yankees have two pitchers who are injured. Right-hander Francisco Rondon will be out for a couple of weeks with stiffness in his back. Right-hander Jose Ramirez also has been shut down and underwent MRIs on his back and oblique.
The Yankees will travel to Lakeland, FL, on Friday for a contest against the Detroit Tigers.
Right-hander Adam Warren will get the starting nod for the Yankees. Warren is in the four-man mix for the No. 5 starting spot. He was 3-2 with a 3.39 in 34 games with the Yankees last season.
Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are scheduled to make the trip.
The Tigers will counter with American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on MLB Radio via WXYT-AM in Detroit.