Yankees' bats scuffle in first loss of 2024

Judge, Stanton, Rizzo off to sluggish starts despite New York's 5-1 record

April 3rd, 2024

PHOENIX -- Starting 6-0 may have been too much to ask, especially with Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen on the mound.

No offense avoids a down night for long, but cracks have been showing in the Yankees lineup well before New York squared up against one of the best starters in the National League.

Even as the Yankees blazed to their best start in more than 30 years, even as they tallied 26 runs in five consecutive wins to begin the 2024 season, only a third of the lineup seemed to be doing much. The trio of , , and may have hit the ground running, but everyone else wasn’t hitting much of anything.

That continued Tuesday night at Chase Field, as Gallen silenced the Yankees en route to a 7-0 loss, New York's first setback after a 5-0 start. The Yankees managed just three hits and struck out eight times, six of them coming in Gallen's six innings of work. Only one Yankees baserunner reached second, with Volpe and Cabrera lacing back-to-back two-out hits in the second. But went down swinging to end New York’s only scoring threat of the game.

“He was just hitting spots,” first baseman said of Gallen. “Especially with two strikes, he wasn’t really missing over the plate at all.”

After going 0-for-4 on Tuesday, Rizzo is one of a number of important lineup fixtures who have yet to get going for the Yankees. The veteran is hitting .182, while struck out three times, giving him 11 punchouts in just 21 plate appearances. Star slugger , who is still finding his rhythm after missing time in Spring Training with an abdominal issue, went 0-for-3 with a walk and is now batting .125 in six games.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone, however, does not seem overly concerned. Enjoying a Stanton feast inevitably requires living through his famines. “The physical tools are still there to get it rolling,” Boone said. “It’s just, sometimes you have to live with a little bit of ups and downs with him as he’s finding it.” As for Judge, Boone said before the game that a breakout for the star outfielder “is just a matter of time.”

Iffy calls don’t help, though. The Yankees struck out looking five times Tuesday, with Judge going down on strikes to end the second inning on a pitch that was clearly several inches below his already massive strike zone. Judge remained at the plate to discuss it at length with home plate umpire Scott Barry. Volpe was also rung up on a questionable call in the fifth.

“Two off the top of my head were … really pitcher-friendly calls,” Rizzo said, pausing mid-sentence to choose his words carefully. “It’s part of the game.”

The Yankees now have 54 strikeouts through six games and are striking out at a 23 percent clip. That’s not particularly alarming -- entering Tuesday, that would have been a league-average strikeout rate -- but it’s also true that the hot starts from Soto and Volpe, plus the club's penchant for pulling off comebacks in the opening series against the Astros, have papered over some weaker aspects of the lineup so far.

That, plus a matchup against the third-place finisher for the National League Cy Young Award, gave Yankees starter little margin for error. For the second time in as many starts, he used it up early, allowing three runs on five hits in the first inning, a frame that ended only thanks to a baserunning gaffe by Arizona rookie Jorge Barrosa. Cortes had little trouble over the next four, but a three-run cushion is a lot to afford an opposing pitcher like Gallen.

“I can’t put my team in a hole that early, that often,” Cortes said. “We’re going to keep working and keep going back at it. Tomorrow’s another day.”