Rizzo breaks through April 'grind' with key HR

Four-run first backs Stroman as Yankees even series with A's

April 24th, 2024

NEW YORK -- April has never been 's favorite month, with raw weather conditions and early-season rust historically making it tough to keep his swing in a good groove. But he is no stranger to hot streaks, and his team sure could use one right now.

Rizzo cracked a two-run homer that capped a four-run first inning as the Yankees started their night with a bang, then held on for a 4-3 victory over the Athletics on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

“It’s nothing to write home about, but they do come in bunches,” Rizzo said. “I’ve just got to grind through it, and know that there’s a lot of baseball left to be played.”

The Bombers had produced just six first-inning runs through their first 23 games, but they came out swinging against Oakland starter Paul Blackburn. stroked a one-out single, doubled and connected for a two-run double, giving the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.

“You want to put together a few big innings to give some breathing room,” Stanton said, “but all it takes is one sometimes.”

Rizzo had hit just one home run through his first 88 at-bats this season, back on April 6 against the Blue Jays. That changed as Rizzo turned on a 92.4 mph Blackburn fastball up, reaching the right-field seats for a Statcast-projected 385-foot blast.

“Those are the little sparks that get guys rolling and get them into the flow of the season,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Then things settle in and get a lot more normal. The first month, you’re trying to get that traction and in the flow of the regular grind of the season -- especially for guys who have been there, done that.”

Though Rizzo remarked this spring that he felt like he had his “superpowers” back, able to track the baseball without difficulty following last season’s lengthy bout with post-concussion syndrome, the early going has been a slog.

Even with Tuesday’s homer, Rizzo is slashing .231/.307/.319 in 24 games; through his first 24 games last season, Rizzo had posted a more robust .292/.379/.517 slash line. Entering Tuesday's game, he had a career .245/.364/.463 slash line in 261 regular-season games played in March and April.

“Every time I go to the plate, I try to have good at-bats,” Rizzo said. “Sometimes you look really good and sometimes you don’t. That’s the game. You’ve just got to keep going.”

Rizzo is hardly the only Yankee off to a slow start, and there was plenty of evidence after the four-run frame.

Blackburn held them to 's second-inning infield single the rest of the way -- shades of Monday’s contest, in which the Bombers were shut out for the fourth time this season.

Including an eighth-inning threat powered by a walk and two hit-by-pitches, the Yankees finished the evening 1-for-21 after having four of their first five batters reach base and score.

It was enough, as navigated 5 1/3 innings while limiting the A’s to three runs and seven hits. Though Stroman’s command was spotty at times, running his pitch count to 48 through two innings, he recovered to strike out a season-high nine.

“It’s not characteristic for me, honestly,” Stroman said. “[Strikeouts are] not my game. It’s not what I’m trying to do. I feel like the way I’m throwing my slider right now with my sinker, mixing my changeup and sweeper, I feel like I have a bunch of pitches to attack the zone.”

Seth Brown had a first-inning RBI double off Stroman, who also surrendered solo homers to Shea Langeliers in the second inning and Lawrence Butler in the fourth. Butler’s homer was a slider exactly one foot off the ground, the lowest pitch Stroman has ever permitted a homer on, besting Jose Altuve's homer on a pitch 1.41 feet off the ground in 2016, when Stroman was with the Blue Jays.

“In the moment, I was very surprised,” Stroman said. “Probably not the pitch I should have thrown.”

, and kept the A's at bay ahead of closer , who retired the side for his ninth save. Holmes has yet to permit an earned run across 12 innings this season.

“Unreal,” Stanton said. “It’s a relief seeing him come in the game, because he’s so dominant. The way he makes opposing batters look, it’s impressive. It’s fun to watch for us.”