There were worries that weather might have affected this game, as the tarp remained on the field through 5pm. Perhaps it would have been better had this one been rained out, as the Yankees turned in another listless performance. The Braves weren’t very good, and Kluber wasn’t even that bad, but New York still lost this one 4-1.
An easy 11-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning for Kluber was sure to settle some nerves. That being said, he was consistently missing Gary Sánchez’s target by some margin and was lucky not to get punished in the opening frame. This trend of missing spots continued throughout his outing, and only the Braves’ own offensive ineptitude kept this one close.
Ian Anderson responded with a perfect 12-pitch inning of his own, which was mostly quiet except for a loud line drive out by Stanton that I frankly did not expect Marcell Ozuna to catch in left (given his track record).
In the second, Kluber was able to navigate around a one-out Ozzie Albies single and wild pitch to convert his second scoreless frame. In the bottom half, Gleyber Torres notched the first Yankees hit of the game, a punch single to center. Mike Ford advanced him to second with a dribbler groundout that hugged the right foul line and Aaron Hicks worked a two-out walk, but Sánchez struck out swinging to end the inning.
In the top of the third, Clint Frazier made a stunning diving catch to save a run, as the ball would surely have rolled to the wall had he missed. Corey Kluber struck out Freddie Freeman, notching his third straight scoreless frame.
Gio Urshela legged out an infield single to lead off the fourth, but Anderson felled the next three batters to end another lackluster inning by the Yankees hitters.
Kluber really ran himself into trouble in the fifth, giving up a single to Pablo Sandoval and walks to Austin Riley and Guillermo Heredia. He looked completely gassed after crossing the 75-pitch threshold, and only by extreme good luck did he limit the Braves to one run in the inning, a sac fly by Ehire Adrianza to plate Sandoval.
Kluber was allowed to face Freeman, whom he walked on four pitches to reload the bases. With his pitch count at 91, Boone gave Kluber the hook and brought on Nick Nelson, who promptly walked Ozuna on four pitches to make it 2-0. Final line: 4.2 innings, two hits, two earned runs, four walks, and two strikeouts.
There are two ways we can interpret Kluber’s start. The optimist might say that he allowed only two runs — an effort which would have kept a non-slumping offense in the contest; whereas a pessimist might point out that the process matters just as much, if not more than the result. Kluber threw 38 balls against 53 strikes, he was lucky that his mistakes in the zone were not punished, and his persistent lack of command bodes ominous going forward. For tonight, I find myself leaning toward the former camp, at least for now. Kluber got lucky he wasn’t tagged for more runs, and the Yankees need all the good fortune they can get in the midst of these offensive doldrums.
The decision to go to Nelson was truly a head-scratcher, as he had struggled with his command in previous outings. That his first five pitches were balls only magnified his questionable selection. However, he righted the ship by striking out d’Arnaud to limit the damage to two runs in the innings.
Meanwhile, Anderson had the Yankees lineup feeling the “December’s foggy freeze” in this mid-April matchup. He cruised through the first six innings unperturbed, allowing only three hits and two walks, and his workload of 78 pitches raised the specter that he might go deep in the game. Mercifully for the Yankees, he appeared to tire in the seventh, giving them a crack at the vulnerable Braves bullpen.
In the seventh, Luis Cessa allowed the first two batters to reach on a Riley popup single that the wind carried out of Ford’s reach and a broken-bat ground ball by Heredia that LeMahieu could not field cleanly. Adrianza advanced the runners with a sac bunt, and following an intentional walk to Freeman, the Braves plated their third run on a ground ball hit softly enough for Ozuna to beat out the double play.
The Yankees had their best opportunity with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Mike Ford led off the rally with a one-out line drive single up the middle. Sánchez and Frazier drew two-out walks to load ‘em up and knock Anderson out of the game. Southpaw A.J. Minter came in to face LeMahieu, who quickly bounced out to third on a 1-0 cutter, leaving the bases juiced. To add to the Yankees’ woes, DJ rolled over four center-cut fastballs as his launch angle worries persist. These were balls that he would drive to the opposite field the last two seasons, so it is puzzling why his approach on those pitches has seemingly changed.
You know the Yankees were mailing this one in when they brought Brooks Kriske in for the ninth. He confirmed those suspicions, yielding an opposite-field solo home run to Riley to add insult to injury and make it 4-0 Braves. The Yankees added a consolation run in the bottom of the ninth after Aaron Hicks walked and took second on defensive indifference. He came around to score on a bloop single to right by Clint Frazier, who — finally — notched his first RBI of the season.
The Yankees head off to Cleveland to open a four-game set tomorrow. Domingo Germán is expected to take the mound against Aaron Civale. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 PM ET, so join us in the game thread for that one.