Notes: Torres playing in front of 'biggest fans'

Chapman working his splitter; Taillon to return to big league action Wednesday

April 6th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Players on every team around the Majors have spoken about the excitement that they felt performing in front of crowds again, but there was added emotion on the season-opening homestand for Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres.

“My parents are back to watch me,” Torres said on Tuesday. “Last year I didn’t see my parents at all, so it’s really good to see my parents watch me play, like when I was young.”

A Venezuela native, Torres was raised in Caracas by his parents, Eusebio Torres and Ibelise Castro, who remained in Venezuela last year. Torres began playing baseball at age 5, and his father has said that he saw advanced skills in his son by age 9.

“At 9, young kids play baseball, but they don’t stand out with their performances the way Gleyber did,” Eusebio Torres said in 2019. “That allowed me to dream and made me realize that Gleyber had a special talent. When he was 9 years old, I envisioned it and I told his mother and his godmother that Gleyber was going to play professional baseball.”

Torres entered play on Tuesday with four hits in 16 at-bats (.250), including one double. Though Yankee Stadium is still capped at 20 percent of its official capacity -- the largest crowd thus far has been 10,850 -- Torres said that he’s thrilled to have his biggest fans in the house.

“It’s really good,” Torres said. “I feel really excited to see my parents every night. They come to the field and watch me play. I’m grateful to have my parents and to have fans in the stands. It’s amazing to play in New York and see thousands of fans in the stands for us.”

Split the difference
Aroldis Chapman has been pleased by the development of his splitter, a pitch that he focused on this spring to offset a slight loss of velocity on his fastball. Opposing hitters seem to be less than thrilled with the new wrinkle in the closer’s arsenal.

Chapman flashed the pitch twice in his season debut on Monday, generating swinging strikeouts from the Orioles’ Maikel Franco and Pat Valaika. Chapman worked the ninth inning in the Yankees’ 7-0 victory, and he said that he’s about “90 percent” confident in the pitch.

“That's why I wanted to work on that pitch so much during Spring Training and the offseason, to find myself comfortable using that pitch,” Chapman said through a translator. “It depends on a lot of things, especially how you feel with that pitch on that given day. But any count, any situation, I'm comfortable and confident in using it.”

According to Statcast, Chapman used the splitter only three times during the 2020 season. He tossed 144 fastballs, 43 sliders and nine sinkers in 11 2/3 regular-season innings.

“My first pitch is my fastball and I think it's always going to be like that,” Chapman said. “Along with my slider, having a splitter now is definitely going to help me and get through the hitters that I face. Baseball has changed a lot; we see more guys throwing over 100 mph. For me, the split definitely complements my other pitches.”

Long road back
As Jameson Taillon prepares to pitch in his first big league game since May 1, 2019, the 29-year-old right-hander believes that he is entering the second phase of his career, one that should feature many valuable innings. Taillon will make his Yankees debut on Wednesday, facing the Orioles as the Bombers conclude their season-opening homestand.

“I'm sure there's going to be some nerves,” Taillon said. “I've never pitched in Yankee Stadium or anything like that, but I've pitched in front of some big crowds. I know how to handle that and use that to my advantage. I’m really grateful to have a second chance at this, really grateful that my elbow feels good. I wasn't so sure a couple years ago that I would ever be on this stage again.”

Taillon underwent his second Tommy John procedure in August 2019, costing him the entire '20 season. Acquired from the Pirates in a January trade, Taillon said that he is appreciative for a fresh start and looks to build upon the promise he showed in the spring, using former Pittsburgh teammate Charlie Morton as an example of a pitcher who blossomed in the second half of his career.

“When you’re drafted, you dream of winning 20 games for 15 years straight,” Taillon said. “I’m happy to be here and I do feel like there’s a lot ahead of me. For being a 29-year-old, I’ve had injuries, but I do feel like I’ve got a lot of great innings ahead. I feel like outside of the elbow, I feel like my arm’s got a ton left to give. I’ve saved a lot of innings on the body too over the years.”

Comeback trail
Left-hander Justin Wilson tossed about 20 pitches from the Yankee Stadium mound on Tuesday in live batting practice, according to manager Aaron Boone, who said that Wilson is on track to be activated before Friday’s series opener against the Rays.

This date in Yankees history
April 6, 1973: The Yankees’ Ron Blomberg became the first designated hitter in baseball history, working a bases-loaded walk in the first inning of a 15-5 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.