NEW YORK -- The return of baseball (and fans) to The Bronx provided lots of action, as the Yankees split their season-opening homestand with the Blue Jays and Orioles. With 57 innings in the books and the Bombers headed south, here are three hot topics to discuss from the first six games:
The Yankees continue to believe that Gleyber Torres can develop into a serviceable shortstop, but the 24-year-old experienced a rough first week back on the job. Torres committed two errors, including a poor throw to first base in the 10th inning on Wednesday, allowing a go-ahead run to score in the Yanks’ eventual 4-3, 11-inning loss to Baltimore.
Chad Green induced Pedro Severino to chop what appeared to be an inning-ending grounder to Torres, who double-clutched and bounced his throw to first baseman Jay Bruce. A more experienced first baseman might have scooped the ball, but Bruce is still getting comfortable at the position. The ball skipped away as Anthony Santander scored.
“He has all the capabilities to be able to go out there and do it,” manager Aaron Boone said. “You have a high-profile miscue or something, you’ve got to be able to work past that. And the good thing about Gleyber Torres is he’s a great player. He’s working hard at his craft, and he has all the equipment to get through that and come out of this on the other side.”
Torres has worked frequently with infield coach Carlos Mendoza to tighten his footwork at shortstop, earning praise this spring for his commitment and conditioning. However, general manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that Torres profiles better as a second baseman. Perhaps the best defensive infield could have Tyler Wade at shortstop late in games, rather than shifting DJ LeMahieu to first base.
“During Spring Training, I prepared really well,” Torres said on Tuesday. “I try to be focused on every play, every inning. I feel really good. I feel confident.”
Aaron Judge blasted a long home run, then mentioned a physical ailment. Sound familiar? That happened last August, when Judge pelted an advertising board over the right-field bullpen at Yankee Stadium, then landed on the injured list with a right calf strain. Yogi Berra once said: “It’s déjà vu all over again,” and we’re feeling a little bit of that right now.
Judge homered for the second consecutive game on Tuesday, a three-run blast to the left-field bleachers, but he was absent from the lineup for Wednesday’s series finale against the Orioles. Boone said that Judge is experiencing soreness in his left side, and when asked if the issue is related to Judge’s oblique, Boone replied that he considers it “general soreness.”
It is notable that Judge did not play in the final three games of the spring; Boone said that two were planned days off and attributed one to allergies. Judge was removed for the final two innings on Monday, and Boone said that he was “getting him off his feet” in a 7-0 game. Judge also appeared hesitant pursuing a Trey Mancini double in the third inning on Tuesday.
“I'm still trying to make the play,” Judge said that night. “I'm trying to be cautious a little bit by the wall, but I still want to try to make the play because I don’t want anybody standing on second base? It was a tough one, and I just wasn't able to get the glove on that one.”
The Yankees proudly unveiled their "gas station" at the player development complex in Tampa, Fla., this February, a high-tech wonderland of the latest gadgets and gizmos in the pitching universe. Those hours spent logging release points and spin rates have yielded results in the early going.
The Yankees’ pitching has been terrific, compiling a Major League-best 1.74 staff ERA while registering 73 strikeouts -- the most by a Bombers staff through the first six games of the regular season.
“I just think overall as a group, we've got a great staff, top to bottom,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “Even the young guys, we know that they can step up big when it counts.”
Twenty-one of those punchouts belong to ace Gerrit Cole, who fanned 13 Orioles over seven dominant innings on Tuesday, matching his strikeout total from Game 1 of last year’s American League Division Series against the Indians. Additionally, Aroldis Chapman’s splitter has confounded hitters across his first two appearances, providing the closer with an unfair third pitch to complement his fastball and slider.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I like where our pitching culture is, as far as the conversations that are being had and the plans that are being put in place as a group,” Boone said. “The guys are really going out and executing well so far.”