YANKEES 6, NATIONALS 1
With Masahiro Tanaka and Max Scherzer locked into an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel on Tuesday the question among the paid crowd of 36,613 at Yankee Stadium was “Which one of them would blink first?” In the bottom of the seventh inning it was Scherzer.
Stephen Drew hit a pair of solo home runs, the Yankees scored four runs in the seventh and Tanaka outpitched his counterpart as New York downed Washington to stretch their winning streak to seven games.
Tanaka (4-1) cruised through seven innings having held the Nationals to a solo home run by Bryce Harper, who launched his 20th of the season with two out in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1-1.
Tanaka yielded just the one run on five hits and no walks with six strikeouts throwing just 87 pitches to earn his second straight victory since being activated from the disabled list on June 3.
Scherzer (6-5), meanwhile, entered the seventh inning having held the Yankees to a solo home run by Drew that opened the bottom of the third inning. It was Drew’s eighth home run of the season and it was his 1,000th career hit.
Scherzer had a very close call with one out in the sixth inning when the Yankees had Mark Teixeira on third after a double and Brian McCann at first on a single. Carlos Beltran then hit a sinking line drive to Michael Taylor in center-field.
Taylor dove and appeared to have caught the ball rolling forward. However, second-base umpire Lance Barksdale ruled that Taylor trapped the ball. So Taylor threw the ball in to second baseman Danny Espinosa and Espinosa flipped the ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, who touched second base to retire McCann on what was scored a fielder’s choice.
However, Teixeira failed to make any attempt to score from third despite the fact that Taylor was on the ground in center-field. Didi Gregorius struck out to end the threat and the game remained tied.
Teixeira and the Yankees earned some redemption in the seventh inning when rookie Ramon Flores stroked a one-out single to right, one of three hits Flores’ had on the night. Brett Gardner followed with an bloop opposite-field single to left to advance Flores to second.
One out later, Alex Rodriguez hit a ground ball to the right of Desmond between second and third. Desmond dove to stop the ball and he elected to try to force out Flores at third. But the ball struck Flores and rolled away in foul territory to allow him to score what proved to be the game-winning run.
Scherzer was removed from the game and replaced by former Yankee left-hander Matt Thornton.
The Nationals elected to walk Teixeira intentionally to load the bases and pitch to McCann. However, McCann ruined the strategy by lacing a lined single down the right-field line that scored Gardner and Rodriguez while Teixeira advanced to third.
Beltran capped the uprising by lining a single to left. Fortunately, this time Teixeira did not stay at third and he was able to score on the hit.
Scherzer, who entered the game with a 1.85 ERA, was charged with four runs on eight hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. Teixeira’s run was charged to Thornton.
Drew added his second home run of the game and his fourth in his past three games while leading off the eighth inning off right-hander Taylor Hill.
Right-hander Dellin Betances, left-hander Chasen Shreve and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to pitch two scoreless frames to preserve the victory for Tanaka.
The Yankees are now 33-25 on the season and – combined with the Tampa Bay’s 8-2 defeat by the Los Angeles Angels – they have now moved to a 2 1/2 games up on the second-place Rays in the American League East. The Nationals have now lost 8 of their past 10 games and are 30-28.
- In his two starts since coming off the disabled list, Tanaka has yielded two runs on eight hits with no walks and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings for a sparkling 1.29 ERA. Those two outings lowered his season ERA to 2.48. For those of you who are thinking that Tanaka’s right elbow is being held together with balsa wood and duct tape, you may want to rethink that belief. Tanaka has re-established himself as an ace for the hottest team in baseball.
- Drew is having a very confounding season. Even with his two-homer night he is still only hitting .175. But the 32-year-old second baseman now has nine home runs and 21 RBIs. In addition, he has been the team’s best fielder in terms of sabermetrics. The question is when backup infielder Brendan Ryan comes off the disabled list will the Yankees send hot-hitting Jose Pirela back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre? Drew appears to be saving his job.
- Flores, 23, came up when fellow rookie Slade Heathcott suffered a knee injury on May 27. One thing he has proven since he arrived is that he can play the outfield. He already has thrown two runners out at the home plate and he also made some excellent catches. On Tuesday, he was 3-for-4, scored the game-winning run and he added another sensational catch. In the eighth inning he made a diving catch of a sinking fly ball off the bat of Espinosa for the first out in the eighth inning.
The way the Yankees have been playing I may have to retire this blog category. When you combine good pitching, good defense and some timely hitting off a very tough pitcher in Scherzer you having the makings of great victory. The Yankees are playing with such confidence now that they are showing that they very well may be the class of the A.L. East.
Sorely in need of some right-handed bullpen help the Yankees have signed veteran Sergio Santos to a minor-league contract. Santos, 31, recorded a 4.73 ERA in 12 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. He elected to become a free agent rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Santos saved 30 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2011. He has been limited to just 65 innings since then due to a rash of injuries.
The Yankees will have a chance to sweep their third consecutive series with a victory over the Nationals on Wednesday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (5-1, 4.16 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, was sailing along against the Angels on Friday, allowing one run on four hits and one walk through five innings. But he walked the bases loaded in the sixth and had to be removed even though he ended up getting credit for the victory.
The Nationals will send left-hander Gio Gonzales (4-3, 4.57 ERA) to the mound. Gonzales, 29, lost to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, yielding two runs on four hits and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, NATIONALS 2
Kyle Roller, Aaron Judge and Cole Figueroa stroked consecutive two-out singles in the eighth inning with Figueroa scoring Roller with the tie-breaking run as New York defeated Washington on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to earn the victory. Mitch Lively (0-1) took the loss. Jared Burton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up a save.
With the victory the Yankees are now 4-2 in Grapefruit League play.
If you walk up to Yankee special instructor Reggie Jackson and ask him who he believes is the team’s best young hitting prospect he does not hesitate to tell you that it is infielder Jose Pirela.
Pirela, 25, put those hitting talents on display on Sunday
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound native Venezuela opened the third inning with a double in the right-field corner and he scored on Brett Gardner’s two-out infield single to tie the game a 1-1.
He came up again in the fourth with two out and Brian McCann on third and Chris Young on first and chopped a infield single to give the Yankees a temporary 2-1 lead.
In his first week of spring games, Pirela is batting .455 (5-for-11) including a double, a triple and three RBIs. If you think that possibly could be just an aberration think about this: Pirela batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs in 130 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
He earned a September call-up to the Yankees last season and all he did was bat .333 in 24 at-bats and three RBIs.
Pirela is not rated among the Yankees’ top prospects and yet there is a scenario where he might leave spring training as part of the 25-man roster.
With backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan shelved so far this spring with a mid-back strain he suffered working out with weights, Pirela would stand to make the team as its middle infield reserve.
The knock on Pirela has always been his defense. Scouts do not see him as a potential starter because of that reason. That reputation largely was sewn because Pirela committed 37 errors in 111 games at shortstop in 2011 wit Double-A Trenton.
But Pirela has cut down on his errors in the past three seasons. He was charged with 11 in 2012, 16 in 2013 and 11 last season though he played first base, second base, shortstop and 45 games in the outfield.
The Yankees see Pirela as a “super sub” player along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr. But the Yankees mostly need him as infielder for now. His bat, though, will always be his main calling card.
“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela told reporters. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”
- The Yankees trotted out their late-inning relievers in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. Both looked relatively sharp. Miller, a 29-year-old left-hander, was making his second appearance of the spring and he threw a perfect inning with one strikeout. Betances, 26, made his spring debut and gave up a leadoff double to Clint Robinson but retired the next three hitters, the last two by strikeout. Manager Joe Girardi said no decision has been made on who the team’s closer will be or if the team will employ Miller and Betances as co-closers.
- Although he was charged with an unearned run in the seventh inning on a RBI groundout by Derrick Robinson, right-hander Luis Severino showed off his 97-mile-per-hour fastball to fan three of the seven batters he faced. Severino, 21, is ranked as the team’s top prospect. Despite being a power pitcher who has fanned 225 batters in 221 2/3 innings, Severino also has only walked 54 batters over that time, which just a bit over two every nine innings. There is a chance Severino could make his major-league debut at some point this season.
- Adam Warren, 27, made his second start of the spring and he looked pretty good despite surrendering a leadoff homer to Michael Taylor on his first offering of the game. Warren yielded just the one run on four hits and no walks with one strikeout in three innings.
- It is early but starting center-fielder and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury is just 1-for-12 (.083) after going 0-for-3 on Sunday – all three were weak groundouts, including one in the third inning with Pirela on third and one out. Gardner followed with his RBI single to get Ellsbury off the hook. It would be nice to see Ellsbury get untracked before spring training ends.
- Carlos Beltran is 0-for-5 in his first two games of spring. Beltran, 37, is recovering from right elbow surgery last September and it is obvious his timing is off in the early going. The Yankees are counting on the perennial All-Star outfielder to produce big numbers batting third for the team this season.
It’s official: Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start in a spring exhibition game on Thursday night as the Yankees play host to the Atlanta Braves. Girardi made the announcement on Sunday. Tanaka, 26, has been monitored closely this spring after he suffered a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last July. Though Tanaka opted to rehab the elbow rather than undergo Tommy John surgery he has reported no issues with his elbow this spring. . . . CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session on Sunday and it appears he is just a week away from his first Grapefruit League start. Sabathia had surgery on his right knee last season and the Yankees are being cautious with the 34-year-old left-hander. Sabathia told reporters there is no doubt he will be ready for the start of the season.
The Yankees will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his first start of the spring for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, was 5-5 with a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts in a season cut short by a pulled muscle in Pineda’s right shoulder.
The Yankees are also scheduled to play their starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley.
The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns, who was 9-9 with a 5.08 ERA at Triple-A Durham last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a taped basis by the MLB Network at midnight.