Saturday, April 18, 2015

Opening Day A Learning Experience
For More Than The New Shortstop

Originally published 4/6/15

By Barry Millman

Toronto Blue Jays: 6 New York Yankees: 1

What I saw: Three masterful innings of pitching by Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka sandwiched around one devastating train wreck inning that decided the ballgame.  

Rehabbing an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow he sustained last season without surgery, Tanaka spent this spring focusing on the off-speed and breaking pitches in his repertoire and less on his four-seam fastball that has been diminished several miles per hour by the injury.

The strategy worked well in the 1st, 2nd and 4th innings as Tanaka demonstrated he could stay ahead in counts and put away hitters relying mainly on his splitter and slider; striking out four of the first six batter he faced.

In the 3rd, however, he lost the plate a little and started falling behind in counts; and his fastballs and the defense behind him combined to ruin his day.

After a single and a walk, Chase Headley fielded  a sacrifice bunt by Jose Reyes and botched the throw to first, sending it down the line and bringing home a run. Former Yankee catcher Russell Martin tagged a four-seamer through the right side of an over shifted Yankee infield, bringing home two more.  Then Tanaka hung a two-seamer to Edwin Encarnacion and it landed over the left field wall for two more and the wheels were off.

When the inning was over he had surrendered five runs -- four earned -- on a walk, an error, two singles and a home run. 

His final line for the game: 4 IP 5H 4ER  2BB  6K  1HR  82 pitches. 50 strikes. 

Two of his fastballs hit 93 mph, his average velocity last season. 

What I liked: 

...Alex Rodriguez went 1-2 with a walk, the only Yankee to reach base twice.  It was his first hit in a game since September 22, 2013. He received the loudest cheers by far of any player the entire afternoon.

...Brett Gardner, who had only one extra base hit all spring, hit a home run for the Yankees' only score.  

...Brian McCann ripped a single just inside the first base line in the fourth for the Yankees only other hit.  It was a good pitch and he squared it up nicely.

...The new, improved bullpen gave up only one hit over five innings after Tanaka left the game. For Chasen Shreve, Chris Martin, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson, it was their first appearances as Yankees. Martin, a rookie,  struck out sluggers Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson in order.

What I didn't like:

...In the bottom of the 8th with two on, two out, Mark Teixeira coming to bat and ARod on deck, the Yankees looked like they might make a run at a late rally. But for some reason, shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was standing on second base, inexplicably broke for third on the first pitch and was gunned down easily by catcher Russell Martin, snuffing out the threat and committing the cardinal baseball sin of making the first or third out at third base. Manager Joe Girardi's look of disbelief in the dugout said it all. After the game, the manager said he hoped the young infielder would use it as a learning experience and never do it again.

...Everything else. When the Yankee's ace faltered, nobody picked him up. Tanaka may be hung with the loss, but cold bats, a baserunning blunder and a throwing error all contributed to the carnage in this fiasco. If he'd only allowed one run, three hits and a run still wasn't enough to win. And it wasn't like they were facing one of the league's elite arms or an unfamiliar one either. Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison, at 24 the youngest Opening Day starter in the team's history, was 1-2 with a 4.80 ERA in three prior starts in the Bronx.

Let's hope this game was a learning experience for more Yankees than just the new shortstop. 

0-1. 161 to go.

What's next: Game #2: Wednesday, April 8, 7:05 pm at Yankee Stadium vs. Toronto Blue Jays