NEW YORK -- The Yankees are continuing to lean on the long ball, powering their best start to a season since 2003. Aaron Judge homered for a career-high fourth consecutive game and Gio Urshela launched his first career grand slam as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox, 5-2, on Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium.
Judge cracked a 455-foot, first-inning blast to the left-field bleachers and Urshela cleared the bases an inning later, depositing a drive onto the netting that covers Monument Park. Both blasts came off right-hander Zack Godley, building a healthy cushion as the Yanks rolled to their fifth straight win and sixth victory in seven games.
“That was my first grand slam of my career,” Urshela said. “I was so excited and so happy to get those four runs for the team. I’m very, very happy to be back this year with the Yankees. I'm trying to do better this year, trying to keep that confidence when I'm playing.”
Judge became the first Yankee to homer in four straight games since Cameron Maybin, who accomplished the feat last June. Each of the Yankees’ last 17 runs have come via homers, and the Bombers have gone deep in each of their first seven games of a season for the fifth time in franchise history and the first time since 2001.
“We have a lot of guys that hit a lot of home runs,” said Mike Tauchman, who enjoyed a three-hit performance. “When we're at our best, we're driving in runs, we're running the bases well, we're using the whole field. I think when you're consistently putting pressure on the opposing team’s pitchers, you're going to get pitches to hit out.”
Back on Tanaka time
Masahiro Tanaka said that it was “exciting” to be back on the mound facing big league competition, making his first start of the season after he sustained a concussion on July 4.
Limited to 51 pitches as he continues to build stamina, the right-hander permitted two runs (one earned) and four hits over 2 2/3 innings. Boston broke through against Tanaka in the third inning, as Xander Bogaerts doubled home a run and another run scored on Gleyber Torres’ third error of the season.
“It's been since Spring Training where I've been in a competitive game, so I think there was some rust there,” Tanaka said through a translator. “I really didn't have the pinpoint command that you want, but you know you go into the game with a plan. The plan was to … try to put more force onto the pitches, so in that sense, I think it worked out pretty well.”
Boone noticed the extra jump on Tanaka’s fastball, which averaged 92.9 mph and maxed out at 94.3 mph. Last season, Tanaka’s fastball averaged 91.5 mph.
“That's as good velocity as we’ve seen on his fastball in the last couple of years,” Boone said. “It’s something we noticed in his first bullpen when he was returning. I thought he threw a lot of good fastballs tonight and mixed his other pitches as well. It was another strong, important step for him.”
Nelson's strong debut
The bullpen combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings, highlighted by Yankees No. 16 prospect Nick Nelson, who became the first Yankee to pitch at least three hitless innings and earn a victory in his Major League debut. The 24-year-old right-hander struck out four -- including Tzu-Wei Lin, the first batter he faced -- and walked two in a 41-pitch appearance.
“It was really awesome being out there, especially wearing the pinstripes and making my debut at Yankee Stadium,” Nelson said. “As soon as the [bullpen] phone rings, I started getting more nervous. The waiting was killing me.”
A fourth-round selection of the Yankees in the 2016 MLB Draft, Nelson pitched at three levels of the club’s system last season, finishing the year with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Boone said that Nelson showcased a fastball that played at the top of the strike zone and an impressive changeup.
“One of the things I'm so excited about is a lot of the young arms that are knocking on the door, and Nelson is one of those,” Boone said. “He was great tonight.”
Hale closes it out
Right-hander David Hale recorded the final six outs to notch the third save of his Major League career, pitching around a pair of singles. Hale’s appearance prompted questions about the availability of closer Zack Britton, who last pitched on Thursday against the Orioles.
Boone said that Britton is healthy, but he was not considered available on Saturday after warming up twice in Friday’s 5-1 victory over the Red Sox. Similarly, Boone said that right-hander Adam Ottavino is healthy but was not available -- an indication that the Yankees will be cautious with their bullpen after losing Tommy Kahnle to a right ulnar collateral ligament injury.
“We’re just trying to be smart here early on,” Boone said. “Even though everyone's feeling good, I feel like we’ve really got to strike that balance. From a workload standpoint, I wanted to stay away from them and continue to build these guys up smartly, knowing that we're going to have to lean on some other guys from time to time as well.”