The offensive malaise that too often plagued the Yankees last season resurfaced in last night’s 3-0 series opener loss to the Blue Jays. The Bombers took the field with a renewed vigor tonight, but it was the pitching that really led the way. Spearheaded by an impressive 4.1 scoreless innings from 2021 hero Nestor Cortes, the Yankees arms put up zero after zero until the final score read 4-0, New York.
I know it was early, but one could be forgiven for feeling that this just wasn’t the Yankees’ night after watching the series of misfortunes that befell them in the bottom of the first. After Josh Donaldson led off with an eight-pitch walk, Aaron Judge crushed a middle-middle 2-0 cutter to left, but noted second-worst fielding left fielder in MLB Lourdes Gurriel Jr. made a leaping grab at the wall to rob extra bases. The play was alarming on two fronts — it was the second fly ball from Judge to die at the wall this season (no I’m not actually worried) and it was yet another plus defensive play from a Toronto defense that I was told had shoddy glovework.
The worst is that it wasn’t even the most annoying play of the frame. Anthony Rizzo came to the plate and ripped a 1-2 pitch off the wall in right. However, Donaldson stopped-and-started multiple times around the bases before inexplicably running through a stop sign, only to be thrown out at the plate by 10 feet. Thus, the Yankees’ mortal enemy from last season — making outs at home — reared its ugly head for the first time in 2022.
Credit to the Yankees, they turned the page on a disappointing first by continuing to make solid contact off Yusei Kikuchi in his Toronto debut. DJ LeMahieu led off with a line drive double to dead center, and after a Gleyber Torres strikeout, Aaron Hicks stepped in batting righty. He stayed on a 2-0 slider on the outer half, punching an opposite-field wall-scraper over the short porch to give the Yankees an early 2-0 lead.
It’s amazing how much more balanced Hicks’ right-handed swing looks than his left, and the numbers back up the eye test In his limited sample size from last season, Hicks was roughly twice as productive batting righty vs. lefty, causing some (including myself) to question whether he’d be better served ditching the switch-hitting approach altogether. Regardless, it’s good to see him find his power stroke, as the Yankees need a healthy and productive season from their center fielder.
While all this was going on, Cortes was busy living up to his Nasty moniker. He struck out Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the first, and Gurriel and Alejandro Kirk in the second, all on fastballs in the zone. Bichette, Guerrero, and Kirk all went down swinging, with Cortes seemingly blowing 93-mph heat by them as if it was triple digits. The combination of the elite life on his fastball with the unpredictability created by his five-pitch mix allows Cortes’ four-seamer to play up against even the best hitters.
The Yankees extended their lead in the fourth with a little help from the Blue Jays defense. LeMahieu and Torres reached on a pair of one-out singles, and on a 1-0 pitch to Hicks, catcher Tyler Heineman tried to throw behind the runner at first, but sailed his throw into the outfield. The ball rolled all the way into the corner, allowing LeMahieu to score from second. Alas, after Hicks walked, Kyle Higashioka grounded into an inning-ending double play, but the Yankees did push their lead to 3-0.
Cortes continued to deal into the fifth inning, collecting another strikeout of Gurriel in the fourth, but ran into a bit of trouble by giving up a one-out double to Matt Chapman. At this point, his pitch count stood at 72, which was right in line with the leash the Yankees have given their other starters during this first turn through the rotation to ease arms into a heavier workload following the abbreviated spring training. Skipper Aaron Boone called on Clay Holmes out of the bullpen, who struck out Santiago Espinal and Zack Collins on a pair of filthy sinkers to end the threat.
Cortes held the potent Toronto lineup at bay for 4.1 innings, giving up three hits and no walks with five strikeouts.
Holmes picked up right where he left off in the sixth, getting Springer, Bichette, and Guerrero 1-2-3 on 11 pitches. His five-out effort could not come at a better time with the Yankees having leaned on their bullpen so heavily in this opening week of games.
Clay Holmes, Sick 97mph Sinker.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 13, 2022
19 inches of run. pic.twitter.com/Wo1ETOemPs
Clay Holmes, Wicked 98mph Sinker. pic.twitter.com/BfIRjo8g1U— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 13, 2022
Miguel Castro followed Holmes’ lead, navigating around a seventh-inning Donaldson throwing error to retire the side on 14 pitches. Jonathan Loáisiga encountered a bit more stress while facing the top of the Blue Jays order in the eighth. After getting two quick outs, Springer and Bichette reached on a pair of bloop singles, but Guerrero grounded out on the very next pitch to strand the pair.
New York tacked on a much-welcome insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Donaldson led off with another eight-pitch walk and moved to third on a Judge double blistered down the left-field line, just beyond a diving Chapman. After a Rizzo strikeout, Giancarlo Stanton pounded a 116.2 mph liner to left for likely the hardest hit sac fly you’ll ever see. Torres flew out to end the inning but the Yankees headed to the ninth having padded their lead to 4-0.
Aroldis Chapman entered in the ninth despite it not being a save situation, and for once, it was a stress-free experience. He struck out a pair and got the final out on a beautiful diving snag by LeMahieu.
Isn’t it glovely, isn’t it wonderful? pic.twitter.com/fuhozo5F23— New York Yankees (@Yankees) April 13, 2022
After the disappointing shutout loss in last night’s contest, it was nice to see the Yankees return the favor tonight. The bats did just enough, but it was the pitching that really shone through.
They will look to go one up in the series tomorrow night with Gerrit Cole set to face José Berríos. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm EDT so be sure to join us in the game thread.