Okay, I get it. You really do have to see Masahiro Tanaka pitch in person to understand what all the fuss was about, and today, I had such an honor. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not perfect, but his pitching will be thoroughly studied for weaknesses by the other teams and strengths by future pitchers. And he almost got as many cheers, photos, and videos as Derek Jeter did today (and that in and of itself felt reminiscent of Mariano Rivera’s games last year).
It’s another lovely sunny, warm day in Tampa. (Yes, I’m rubbing it in for all you in the midst of yet another wintry blast; stay safe this weekend; or take a trip to join other Yankee fans here in Florida already.) Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to think of the back-to-back-to-back starters lined up for the pitching today, but it was rather fun. CC Sabathia certainly made his mark in his spring debut, allowing just 2 hits over his 2 innings; his drastically slimmed-down figure is a little jarring at first, but his obvious power and strength has returned and that certainly puts Sabathia back in true form. Hiroki Kuroda, in a nicely predictable outing, only gave up one hit over his 2 innings; something I noticed last year is that Kuroda plays every game like it’s October, be it Spring or regular season or actually October, and that’s something I hope more guys pick up and emulate. (And with some help by Jeter in the 3rd with a fun, strong double play.)
And then came Tanaka, greeted by a sold-out crowd with camera phones at the ready, and about half the Yankee fans on their feet cheering. The Phillies were really stunted by his display over the next two innings. They managed to eke out 2 hits, but couldn’t do much beyond little squeakers, except strikeout 3 times. Betances and Cabral split the last two innings, and both really were awfully good, neither allowing a hit. I know they always say that pitching makes the difference, and that certainly was the case today. And following that logic, things could get rather interesting with a Sabathia-Kuroda-Tanaka combination at the start of the rotation. It’s going to be very fun year for the Yankees.
Now, of course, it’s not all about pitching. In order to win, one must score a run or two. And the Yankees were ripe for a win at home in front of a crowd waiting to see something amazing on “Starters’ Spring Debut Day” (not an official name, but I’d like residuals if you decide that’s going to be a regular thing). So they delivered the only thing worthy of Starters’ Spring Debut Day (for emphasis) — a shut-out.
Unable to convert a great opportunity in the 3rd, the Yankees seemed determined to do something in the 4th. The first two batters (Cervelli and Johnson) walked, and Francisco Cervelli easily scored on a Ichiro Suzuki single into right field. And the Yankees were up 1-0.
In the 5th, Jeter reached on a throwing error by the Phillies 3rd baseman, who must have thought the 1st baseman was closer to Sabathia’s height and threw the ball instead into a waiting fan’s glove in the 1st base line seats, as Jeter was given 2nd base. Jeter then moved to 3rd on a force out and scored on Cervelli’s single. 2-0 Yankees.
And in the 7th, with 2 outs and bases loaded (a single and 2 walks), Adonis Garcia singles home both Dean Anna and John Ryan Murphy to put up the final score of 4-0 Yankees. I should mention that it was in the 7th, that all the “replacements” finally took the field, with the regulars staying on through both of Tanaka’s innings (a rather pleasant surprise, as they usually leave around the 5th inning instead).
Now, before that, the top of the 7th was rather fun to watch. Under Betances, the first batter lines out to a waiting 2nd baseman Addison Maruszak (a new non-roster invitee that I remember from last year’s camp); the next guy grounds out to Anna at shortstop, who flattens out in the short outfield before firing it away to 1st base for the out (very impressive); the next batter reaches on an error by Anna, who just couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball; and then the last batter grounds into a force out from 3rd baseman Solarte to Maruszak at 2nd. (Basically, it was the Maruszak-Anna show that inning.) Honestly, it was rather fun to watch this inning (and the next two) because it’s what most of the Scranton-Wilkes Barre crowd will get to watch next year, and they are in for a treat.
All in all, it was a rather great day for the Yankees. Today’s ones to watch: Dean Anna (single, stolen base, great defense, and an error all in one inning); Dellin Betances (stellar pitching should solidify a spot in the bullpen); and Addison Maruszak (though he didn’t contribute offensively, his defense today certainly shined and was rather reminiscent of his last Spring and last season with AAA Scranton). If this is our farm system, I have a sneaking suspicion the Boss would be mighty proud of his Yankees. Today felt like a day for the Boss, and today they delivered a Boss-worthy win.