Stakes in spring training are typically pretty low, but this spring has added significance for the Yankees. Two of their starting jobs — left field and shortstop — will be decided via open competition during the month of spring exhibitions. Four of the five candidates for those jobs were on display in Bradenton today as Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Aaron Hicks, and Oswaldo Cabrera all got starting nods.
The competitors for short had better days than the ones out in left. Volpe left the yard as part of a 2-for-3 day while Peraza reached base three times and scored twice to kickstart the Yankees’ 9-1 victory over the major league half of the Pirates’ split squad.
Today’s contest opened in the most thrilling fashion we could’ve hoped, with Volpe blasting a leadoff home run to left field off Mitch Keller. The righty pitcher may not be an ace, but he’s no slouch either with over 300 innings pitched in the bigs and a fastball that can touch triple digits. He worked the count to 2-2 before Volpe ambushed an elevated sweeper to open the scoring.
The wind may have been blowing out to dead-center to start the game, but Volpe didn’t appear to need any assistance muscling the ball out to left, as it left his bat at almost 100 mph and travelled almost 400 feet. It was actually quite an impressive piece of hitting, as he was able to stay back and extend his arms to pull a sweeper on the outside corner with power.
There was a bit of a scary moment to open the second when Peraza was hit on the right wrist by a 94-mph sinker. Manager Aaron Boone and the trainer were quickly out of the dugout, but Peraza quickly shook off the sting and jogged down to first. Seen as the most defensively sound of the three candidates for the Opening Day shortstop job, Peraza and Yankees fans likely let out a collective sigh of relief that it was just a glancing blow.
Peraza looked no worse for wear as the inning progressed, stealing second before advancing to third on a wild pitch to Rafael Ortega, finally coming around to score on a mammoth two-run bomb from the left fielder — his second long ball of spring.
The 31-year-old lefty outfielder had his moment in the sun with the Cubs in 2021 alongside fellow unexpected veteran breakout performers Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel, but was non-tendered following the 2022 season. Much like another NRI outfielder, Willie Calhoun, Ortega is seen as an under-the-radar candidate in the Yankees’ left field competition.
Keller’s job in the inning didn’t get any easier, as he surrendered back-to-back singles to Michael Hermosillo and Jake Bauers. He did manage to strike out Estevan Florial and Volpe, but was pulled for Tyler Samaniego, who got the final out of the frame to limit the damage to 3-0 Yankees.
Yankees pitchers looked razor sharp out of the gate, with the Bombers opting to hand an inning each to some of their highest-leverage relievers to open the contest. Lou Trivino struck out Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Santana — perhaps the two names we think of first when it comes to plate discipline — to close out the first. Wandy Peralta one-upped the feat in the second, striking out the side on just 14 pitches. The southpaw was particularly ruthless in disposing of Tucupita Marcano; the pitch clock seems to be no problem for him.
Wandy Peralta striking out Tucupita Marcano in approximately 20 seconds. pic.twitter.com/XgCXwJXOdh— Lucas (@DBITLefty) March 2, 2023
Clay Holmes then turned in a scoreless bottom of the third. Albert Abreu, Jimmy Cordero, and Chase Hampton followed the 2022 All-Star’s suit by completing 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, fifth, and sixth, needing just 23 pitches between the trio to do it.
New York added a fourth run in the fourth with Jake Bauers leading off with his second single of the day. He came around to score on an Estevan Florial double into the right-center gap, who himself could have increased the lead in the frame but was doubled off at home trying to score on a Cabrera flyout to center.
Peraza reached base for the third time on a fifth inning throwing error by Oneil Cruz, and scored his second run when Ortega laced a triple down the right field line to make it 5-0 Yankees. Meanwhile, the wholesale substitutions that categorize spring training games didn’t begin until a bit later in the contest, with some of the day’s starters being given four opportunities at the plate. Volpe collected his second hit and third time on base with a single in the sixth.
At this point, almost all that starters had been replaced, but it was the subs who provided a grand finish. Yankees’ No. 6 prospect Everson Pereira doubled to right to open the ninth, followed by a pair of walks to load the bases. Up stepped Andres Chaparro to pull a hanging 1-2 slider to left for a grand slam to stamp a 9-0 exclamation mark on the scoreboard.
New York had a chance at a combined no-hitter, holding the home team without a hit through the first eight innings, however a Matt Fraizer single off Matt Bowman in the ninth broke up the bid. Pittsburgh got a small dose of revenge on Drew Maggi’s solo bomb, which runs the righty reliever’s ERA up to 27.00 with three homers allowed in just 1.2 innings. Bowman walked another pair but struck out Malcom Nunez to seal the Yankees victory, 9-1.
The Bombers return to GMS Field to host the Tigers tomorrow, with Gerrit Cole making his first start of the spring against Michael Lorenzen. Unfortunately, the game will not be televised, but join us in the game thread for 6:35pm ET first pitch.