NEW YORK -- A sampler platter of spring meetings suggested that the Yankees will have their hands full with the Blue Jays, a young and athletic squad widely forecast to represent their most formidable stumbling block in the American League East this season.
Nothing from these nine innings changed that view. The Yankees were held to one hit through six innings by right-hander Alek Manoah, then saw a couple of late rallies fizzle before watching Toronto win for a fifth straight time at Yankee Stadium, dropping a 3-0 decision on Monday night in the Bronx.
“They’re a great ballclub,” said outfielder Aaron Judge. “They’ve got a great offense that we saw today. They’ve got guys that hit for power, got good speed up and down, then a great pitching staff. They’re going to be tough all year, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Sharp Toronto defense took away any hints of momentum from the Yanks. Bo Bichette made a nice play on Giancarlo Stanton’s third-inning broken-bat grounder, while right fielder Teoscar Hernández made a nifty grab to rob a hit from Kyle Higashioka in the seventh.
That transpired one batter before the double-play tandem of Santiago Espinal and Bichette turned a pretty twin-killing on pinch-hitter Josh Donaldson’s ball up the middle, with right-hander Adam Cimber squelching a rally despite Donaldson’s 105.6 mph rocket.
“They made a couple of big plays when they did get in trouble, but for the most part, Manoah was in control,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Toronto won eight of 10 games in the Bronx last season, including each of their last four, beginning on Sept. 6. Coincidentally, that Sept. 6 game -- when Hyun-Jin Ryu and three relievers combined to blank New York, 8-0 -- was also the last time that the Yankees had been shut out before Monday.
“They’re a good team,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo. “This whole division -- the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, the Rays. The Orioles aren’t going to just bow down, either. They’re up and coming and have guys on the way. We lost today; tomorrow we’ll come back and do what we can do to win.”
Drive for five
Jameson Taillon became the first Yankees starter to complete five innings this season, limiting Toronto to two runs and five hits over five frames, touched by George Springer’s two-run homer in the third inning.
The right-hander walked none and struck out six, generating 17 swings-and-misses -- nine on a fastball that averaged 93.7 mph, three each on his slider and changeup, and one apiece on his sinker and curveball.
“That’s a good test. That’s a really good lineup,” Taillon said. “You make your pitch, you can get called strikes or swing-and-miss. If you make a mistake, they’ll make you pay. It’s just a good way to get a marker early in the year.”
Making his first regular-season start since undergoing right ankle surgery in October, Taillon is now 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 16 home starts as a Yankee, recording 83 strikeouts through 85 innings.
“A lot of the stuff I had been working on in Spring Training came to life tonight,” Taillon said. “I don’t think I was too predictable or anything, but the Springer home run was on a slide-step, which is something I’ve been working on. So that’s something to work on in between starts.”
Due in part to the abbreviated spring, New York squeezed just 10 1/3 innings out of their first three starting pitchers of the year -- Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery.
The Bombers’ bullpen has combined to allow just three earned runs over 22 2/3 innings so far (1.19 ERA), including four relief innings on Monday from Michael King and rookie Ron Marinaccio.
Boone defended Joey Gallo after Sunday’s loss to the Red Sox, saying that he believed the outfielder was off to “a good start” despite managing one hit in his first 10 at-bats, with three walks. Boone said he saw Gallo controlling the strike zone and making good contact throughout the Boston series.
Better results began to arrive on Monday, as Gallo finished 2-for-3 with a walk. Gallo had New York’s only hit off Manoah, a second-inning single, then tried to spark a ninth-inning rally with a hit off closer Jordan Romano before being erased when Gleyber Torres grounded into a double play.
“I can’t really help what happens after I hit the ball,” Gallo said. “Go hit the ball, swing at strikes and hopefully God is on my side most of the time. Sometimes you hit it right at somebody, but you’ve just got to keep swinging it.”