TAMPA, Fla. -- Michael King could scarcely contain a smile atop the George M. Steinbrenner Field mound on Sunday afternoon, scanning the midnight blue seats behind home plate -- once again populated with movement, as fans replaced the cardboard cutouts that occasionally observed his outings last season.
That part of the experience, King said, was fantastic. The results did not live up to the right-hander’s expectations as he worked two innings in the Bombers’ 6-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Blue Jays, knocked for three runs and three hits while throwing 42 pitches (27 for strikes).
“It’s not what I wanted, but it was good to get out there, good to have fans and everything,” King said. “I felt like I was super rotational and that led to some bad pitches; too many freebies -- two walks, two hit-by-pitches. That’s what hurt me. My arm is feeling great and I’ve just got to execute a little better.”
Drawing the start for the Yanks’ first game with fans in attendance since March 12, 2020, King surrendered a two-run ground-rule double to Rowdy Tellez in the first inning and a run-scoring Cavan Biggio double in the second, recording one strikeout. The 25-year-old King said that he thought his sinker was too elevated and threw more fastballs than necessary.
“He got a lot of work in,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought his stuff was really good. He was 94 to 97 [mph] with his fastball. He executed some; the command clearly wasn't there. He had some 3-2 counts where he lost guys and didn't make a pitch. He flashed some really good changeups along the way. It was a step for him moving forward.”
King is battling for a roster spot after making nine appearances (four starts) for the Yankees last season, pitching to a 7.76 ERA in 26 2/3 innings. He said that pitching in front of a live audience “felt a lot more normal.”
“Even with only [2,637] fans, it still felt loud,” King said. “Obviously, compared to nothing, it’s a lot louder. It’s just awesome to see movement. I got used to the cardboard cutouts, and they’re getting more lively. Even getting into a 3-2 count, you had the slow clap going. It was a lot more fun than it has been.”
Gleyber Torres made a sharp defensive play in the second inning on Sunday, ranging up the middle to flag a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. chopper, then going into a slide and firing a strike to first baseman Luke Voit.
It was a nice way to start the exhibition slate for Torres, who is focused on fine-tuning his defense after committing nine errors last season, which tied for the most among American League shortstops.
“During the offseason, I prepared myself to be more consistent on defense,” Torres said. “I’m not worried about my defense from last year. It happened already. I’m just focused now on being ready for each pitch. I worked so hard during the offseason and the first days of Spring Training. I’m just trying to show confidence and play the game.”
Back to back
DJ LeMahieu stroked the Yankees’ first hit of the exhibition slate, a fourth-inning single to center field. Rob Brantly and Mike Tauchman supplied the power in the fifth by going back-to-back, with Brantly slugging a two-run homer to right-center field and Tauchman launching a drive to right. The homers were hit off Jacob Waguespack.
“That was pretty impressive,” Aaron Judge said. “Tauchy put in a lot of hard work this offseason. He’s a guy that comes to play every single day. He brings intensity, he brings that fire. That’s one of the things he told me before the game: ‘Hey, I’m going to be aggressive today, so get ready.’ And he was, turning on that inside pitch. He did what he does best.”
Boone had difficulty absorbing the Astros' scandal last spring, straining his relationship with A.J. Hinch, whom he considered a friend. Monday will mark Hinch’s first visit to Steinbrenner Field since the revelations that prompted his one-year suspension, with Hinch now managing the Tigers.
“I've talked to A.J. since; I've talked to him in the last several weeks,” Boone said. “I don't know how much interaction we'll have across the field, but I don't expect there to be much ado about it. … I have beyond moved on from it. Our focus is on getting ready to hopefully go out and play in a championship season. I’m not going to get caught up in looking back from a couple of years ago.”
Judge, who has voiced his belief that he missed an opportunity to play in the World Series because of Houston’s activities, said that he had no plans to speak with Hinch.
“Tomorrow I’ve got the day off, so I don’t think with COVID protocols we’re supposed to be on the field,” Judge said, with a chuckle. “So I think I’ll be missing that one.”
Judge said that he expects to rest Monday and will play back-to-back days on Tuesday against the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., and on Wednesday against the Blue Jays.
Brett Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton are expected to make their spring debuts on Wednesday, Boone said.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole will draw the start on Monday as the Yankees host the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is also expected to pitch for New York. The game can be seen on the YES Network and MLB.TV.