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Notes: Team dinner; Britton in closer role

Cole, Gardner organize socially-distanced meal for club bonding
@BryanHoch
July 25, 2020

An off-day on a road trip usually offers big league players opportunities to explore cities and visit new restaurants, but with the Yankees largely confined to their hotel rooms this season, Gerrit Cole and Brett Gardner spotted an opportunity for team bonding. Cole and Gardner organized a socially-distanced dinner in

An off-day on a road trip usually offers big league players opportunities to explore cities and visit new restaurants, but with the Yankees largely confined to their hotel rooms this season, Gerrit Cole and Brett Gardner spotted an opportunity for team bonding.

Cole and Gardner organized a socially-distanced dinner in a banquet area of their Washington, D.C., hotel on Friday evening, where the players savored steaks and kept their eyes peeled to flat-screen televisions tuned to the other games around the Majors.

“It's not the same as sitting there next to your teammates, but we kept our distance down in this banquet area that we have, and we watched some of the games on TV together, as a team,” left-hander Zack Britton said. “If anything, I feel like maybe we'll have a little bit more team bonding than in the past on some of those off-days. The biggest thing that we're doing is trying to stay in the hotel and be safe, be healthy.”

MLB’s Operations Manual states that members of the traveling party should avoid leaving the club hotel for non-essential purposes and that they are not to visit off-property restaurants, instead utilizing a dedicated dining area within a private location of the hotel.

That ballroom got loud, according to right-hander Chad Green, when the Athletics’ Matt Olson hit a walk-off grand slam to defeat the Angels on Friday night. Green said that he thought the dinner organized by Cole and Gardner helped his teammates to pass the time.

“It was a nice way to relax, kind of watching other games,” Green said. “It's just nice to have sports back on TV. … It’s good to just talk baseball and get other guys’ opinions and have a nice dinner. It was great. I can't complain about a good steak.”

Closing time
With Aroldis Chapman unavailable due to the coronavirus, Britton is temporarily back in the closer’s role, where he tallied an American League-leading 47 saves for the Orioles in 2016. Britton said that he told manager Aaron Boone to consider him ready for any assignment.

“Obviously, it wasn't the most important thing for me when I signed back here,” said Britton, who agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal in January 2019. “If you know they want to use me in the eighth inning, they want to use me in the ninth inning -- it doesn't really matter to me. We'll see how the matchups play out and things like that, but I told him that he doesn't need to feel obligated to put me in that role.”

The bullpen didn’t come into play during Thursday’s season opener, as Cole pitched five scoreless innings in a rain-shortened 4-1 victory over the Nationals. Britton said that he thought the biggest challenge of closing was finishing games on the road in front of hostile fans, and he is curious to see if those emotions are different now in empty stadiums.

“A lot of that as a young closer coming up was going into Yankee Stadium or Fenway [Park] and trying to close the game out with those crowds,” Britton said. “I'm sure it'll feel a little different. I'll find out if it happens, but I would think that the crowd not being there would change that a little bit.”

Abad inked
The Yankees announced Saturday that they signed left-hander Fernando Abad to a Minor League contract and added him to their 60-man roster. Abad has been assigned to the club’s alternate training site in Moosic, Pa.

“We'll see how he looks and see at some point if he fits in,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s definitely a guy with a track record and a guy that potentially gives us more depth, especially in the environment we're playing in.”

The 34-year-old Abad attended Spring Training with the Nationals as a non-roster invitee and was released on July 17. He made 21 big league relief appearances last year for the Giants, going 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA, and he owns a 3.67 ERA over 384 appearances since making his debut in 2010.

Bombers bits
• Jordan Montgomery tossed in a simulated game Friday at Nationals Park and is lined up to start the Yanks’ home opener on Wednesday against the Phillies, Boone said. DJ LeMahieu, who rejoined the lineup on Saturday, was one of the hitters Montgomery faced.

• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw 35-40 pitches in a simulated game Sunday in Moosic. The Yankees are hoping to activate Tanaka for Friday’s start against the Red Sox.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.