TAMPA, Fla. -- Mike Tauchman does not believe that spring statistics serve as an accurate indicator of regular-season performance, even though they could help secure his place on the Yankees' roster.
More importantly, Tauchman is pleased with the adjustments he has made at the plate this spring, which the outfielder believes are translating into production. Coming off a strong effort Tuesday afternoon against the Tigers in which he homered, singled and worked two walks, the 30-year-old remains hopeful that he will head north with the club at the end of camp.
"I've personally been happy with how I've played the outfield, and I've been happy with how my body has felt," Tauchman said. "I think that I'm in a position to play at a high level in the Major Leagues this year, and to me, that's much more of a priority than worrying about what people way above my pay grade are going to do. I'm focused on playing baseball. I'm focused on today."
Tauchman is out of Minor League options, which complicates the Yankees' decisions as they whittle the roster to 26 men for Opening Day. Catcher Kyle Higashioka and outfielder Brett Gardner will comprise half of the four-man bench, leaving Tauchman, Jay Bruce, Derek Dietrich and Tyler Wade to battle for the remaining two spots. Bruce can opt out of his Minor League contract on Thursday.
Though Tauchman struggled last season, batting .242/.342/.305 (83 OPS+) with no homers and 14 RBIs in 43 games, manager Aaron Boone believes that Tauchman is much closer to the form he showed in 2019. That year, Tauchman was a key contributor for the Yanks’ "Next Man Up" brigade, batting .277/.361/.504 (127 OPS+) with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs in 87 games.
The difference is that Tauchman was dealing with a lingering right shoulder injury that sapped his power last season. Tauchman is reluctant to use the ailment as an excuse, saying that he felt good enough to be in the lineup, but he acknowledges that it feels more natural to get off his "A" swing this spring.
"Ultimately, I felt as though I could play," Tauchman said. "There was a large part of the season where I didn't feel like myself. It was difficult for me to take the swings that I wanted to take. Whether it was consciously or subconsciously, I found a way that I felt like I could swing and get through games, and I developed some bad swing patterns. I feel like I'm in a lot better position to have success this year."
Not Deivi’s day
Deivi García struggled over three-plus innings on Wednesday, serving up home runs to Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández in the Yankees’ 5-0 Grapefruit League loss to the Blue Jays. The Yanks’ No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, García was knocked for four runs and seven hits in the 67-pitch outing, permitting two walks and recording two strikeouts.
“In a way, it can be like an internal battle,” García said through an interpreter. “You're trying to make the adjustments. You're not getting to where you want as far as executing and pitching. But at the same time, you have to understand that outings like this will happen. It’s important to keep trying.”
Boone said that he did not see much life on García’s pitches in the strike zone, noting that he hung several breaking balls that were put in play hard.
“I thought stuff was all right, but just not that crisp finish that we've seen where there’s bite on the breaking ball or he locates it properly,” Boone said. “I do feel like he’s in a pretty good spot. He just lacked that consistency with his pitches today.”
Boone said that he received a COVID-19 vaccine about a week ago and that he will encourage his players to receive vaccination shots when they are eligible.
“There’s talk of more of us being able to get it,” Boone said. “It does seem like it's starting to happen with a younger population and healthier population. Hopefully it's something that will be available to us en masse. I'll definitely encourage that.”
Nick Nelson said that he focused on experimenting with the recovery aspects of his workout program this past offseason, preparing for a season in which he expected to be used out of the bullpen instead of as a starting pitcher. It was an area that the right-hander found challenging last year, when he pitched to a 4.79 ERA in 11 big league appearances.
"I've been pretty heavy on the cherry juice; I know that's good for recovery," Nelson said. "I get extra sleep. Sleep was the main thing -- during the season, it's a little harder to get extra sleep, because you have later games and then you're still hyped up from the games that you just pitched. Last year, the day after I pitched, I felt like I got hit by a dump truck. This year, everything has been smooth sailing."
Nelson, 25, could figure prominently in a bullpen that will be without left-hander Zack Britton for the first three months of the season. Boone has said that he envisions Chad Green, Darren O'Day and Justin Wilson sharing late-inning duties, but Wilson sustained a left shoulder injury in his most recent appearance. Nelson has pitched to a 1.04 ERA over 8 2/3 innings this spring.
"I feel pretty good about the way I've thrown this Spring Training," Nelson said. "I feel like my pitches are working. I worked hard this offseason to try to get that fastball command better than the previous year. I'm pretty satisfied with the way I've been throwing it."
It has been about five years since Wade fielded a career-changing telephone call from Gary Denbo, then the Yankees' vice president of player development. The club wanted Wade to increase his versatility, suggesting that he could carve out a long career in the Majors as a jack-of-all-trades. The comparisons presented then were Brock Holt and Ben Zobrist.
"Being a utility player is not so much negative anymore," Wade said. "It’s more of a role player, and he’s an important part of each club. I feel like more teams are having that guy. I think it’s important. Defense wins championships. At the end of the day, when it’s a one-run game, you need to play defense.”
Drafted as a shortstop, Wade has seen time at every position but pitcher, catcher and first base during his Major League career, while boasting the best speed on the Yanks’ roster.
“I'm an athletic guy, so I like to use my athletic ability to my advantage,” Wade said. “I wasn't really a good defender in the Minor Leagues. I went through some learning curves and some failures. The biggest thing I heard was, you have to have trust from your pitching staff. I didn't want to be the guy that was kind of shaky, so I put in the work and I take pride in that.”
Following Wednesday’s game, the Yankees reassigned right-hander Kyle Barraclough, outfielder Sócrates Brito, outfielder Ryan LaMarre and right-hander Asher Wojciechowski to Minor League camp.
Michael King is scheduled to make his sixth appearance and third start of the spring on Thursday as the Yankees visit the Phillies for a 6:05 p.m. ET exhibition in Clearwater, Fla. King has pitched to a 3.46 ERA in 13 innings this spring. Left-hander Matt Moore is scheduled to start for Philadelphia. The game can be watched on MLB.TV and listened to on WFAN.