Yanks unable to rise to Judge's challenge vs. O's

5 takeaways from shaky season-opening series in Bronx

April 1st, 2019

NEW YORK -- The challenge that publicly issued at the center of the Yankees' clubhouse went unanswered, unable to rally his teammates past the visiting Orioles, who grabbed two of three games in the season-opening series with a 7-5 outcome on Sunday.

Following a three-hour, 17-minute rain delay, Judge contributed a two-run single and slugged a home run, but that production was not enough to overcome 's wobbly start. New York went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, leaving 14 men on base.

"We had a lot of opportunities with guys on base," Judge said. "We had them on the ropes but just weren't able to get the job done. Like I said, we've got to play like we have our backs against the wall. Any team should play like that. We've got to go out there and win every game. That's our goal."

Judge said the Yankees need to move on and get ready for their series with the Tigers that opens on Monday evening, but first, here are five takeaways from Opening Weekend in the Bronx:

1) Traffic jammed
After a 7-2 victory on Opening Day, the Yankees were outscored 12-8 in the next 18 innings. Built on patience and power, the lineup produced chances, but key hits were hard to find. Over the final two games, New York was 5-for-21 with runners in scoring position, leaving 25 men on base.

Judge had one of the Yankees' RISP-y hits in the fourth inning on Sunday, lacing a two-out, two-run single to right field off reliever John Means. They didn't notch another such hit until the ninth inning, when DJ LeMahieu knocked a run home with a single to right field off Mychal Givens.

"That's been the difference here in these first few games," manager Aaron Boone said. "We've had so much traffic out there. Over the course of a season, you're going to have peaks and valleys like that. That's what traffic is about. Over time, when you create traffic, we're going to get our share of hits. Early in the season, first three games, that's kind of been the difference. We'll break through. We've got to keep grinding away."

2) What's Kraken?
Sanchez's seventh-inning homer on Sunday provided relief after the catcher heard boos following strikeouts in his first three at-bats, but for the second consecutive game, Sanchez committed an error on a throw to second base. That came in the fifth inning, when he fired errantly on Jonathan Villar's steal attempt.

"It looks like he is a little quick with his feet, rushing it a little bit -- maybe trying to do a little too much with the throw instead of trusting his calling card," Boone said. "I do think it's a little bit of an aberration, getting a little speedy with his footwork and not having that strong foundation."

Sanchez said he feels good at the plate, and believes fine-tuning his mechanics should be an easy fix.

"The adjustment to be made is simple," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "I pulled on the ball again. I tried to make a stronger throw and I ended up bouncing it. I believe I'm going to be able to correct that sooner rather than later."

3) For starters
Masahiro Tanaka shrugged off his Opening Day bugaboo, pitching into the sixth inning and picking up his first win in four season-opening starts as a Yankee, and James Paxton pitched well through five innings on Saturday before running into trouble in the sixth.

Happ, by comparison, was in trouble almost immediately. Renato Nunez slugged a three-run homer in the first inning and Trey Mancini added a solo shot in the third, a continuation of an underwhelming Spring Training in which Happ surrendered six homers in 11 1/3 innings.

"The two homers obviously hurt, but other than that, I thought I got some weak contact and some ground balls, kind of what we were looking for," Happ said. "Some of the damage had been done, so hopefully I'll be a little more sharp."

4) Leaking 'pen
The Yankees' bullpen has been vaunted as one that could stand among the all-time greats, but the first three games have raised red flags. While Adam Ottavino has been excellent, Zack Britton's command was off and Aroldis Chapman's velocity was down in the opener, while Chad Green and Jonathan Holder were hit around in Saturday's loss.

On Sunday, Luis Cessa took over after Happ's four-inning outing and provided 3 1/3 innings of long relief. Boone opted to summon Stephen Tarpley with the Yankees trailing by a run in the eighth, and Joey Rickard teed off on the rookie for a two-run homer. Boone defended his choice of Tarpley over a more experienced veteran like Britton.

"Those guys have got to be able to get big outs for us," Boone said. "Tonight we got hurt by the long ball there with Tarp, but those guys need to be able to get big outs in the medium- and lower-leverage spots, especially early."

5) Projection rejection
The Orioles finished last in the American League East with 115 losses last season, and prognosticators expect that they could have an even poorer finish in 2019. Boone said that has no place in their clubhouse, and he does not want to think of Baltimore as being an inferior opponent.

"I'm not in the projection business. I reject that all the way," he said. "We have no idea who people are. We have high expectations for ourselves, and the bottom line is, we think we're going to be a really good team. You're going to have series where you don't put your best foot forward. I'm confident that we're really close to doing that. We plan on that starting [Monday] night."