Well, that was both less stressful and more stressful than it should have been. Faced with a pitching matchup that looked, on paper, to be firmly in Seattle’s favor, a trio of Yankees not expected to contribute at the start of spring training — Jhony Brito, Jake Bauers, and Billy McKinney — led New York to a series victory over the Mariners with a 4-2 win on Wednesday night in the Bronx.
Making his first start at the MLB level in a month and coming off a pair of six-run outings in Scranton, Brito was electric today for the Yankees. His final line was a very impressive: 5.2 shutout innings with three K’s, two hits, and one walk. As the numbers imply, Brito coasted through much of the game; although he did not generate a ton of whiffs — he managed just six swings and misses all night — he generated primarily soft contact: opposing batters managed just five hard-hit balls all night and recorded just a .256 xBA.
In the top of the first, Brito let the first two batters aboard, a single by José Caballero and a fielder’s choice off the bat of Julio Rodríguez, who would then steal second. After this point, however, he retired 11 straight, and did not allow another runner to enter scoring position.
It’s debatable whether this outing or his Major League debut back in April, when he allowed two hits and struck out six across five scoreless frames against the Giants, represents the best outing of Brito’s young career. It is, though, the longest of his career, just edging out a four-run, 5.1-inning victory over Toronto back in May 15th. More importantly, it was a big outing in a big spot against one of the game’s premier pitchers, as the Yankees offense continues its vain attempt to find its footing.
Up against a starter that has historically given them trouble, the Yankees offense battled against Castillo. Taking advantage of a day in which the right-hander struggled with his command, the lineup worked four walks in just five innings, which represents both the second-most walks he’s allowed in a game this year as well as his shortest outing of the season to date.
Across the first two frames, this patient approach resulted in nothing more than a slightly elevated pitch count, as Castillo needed 36 pitches to record the first six outs, although a Kyle Higashioka fly out 379 feet into center field for the third out of the second was a sign of things to come. Leading off the bottom of the third, Anthony Volpe worked an eight-pitch walk. As the rookie shortstop danced off first base — drawing a throw over — Bauers worked a 3-2 count before sending a 97-mph fastball 392 feet deep into the Bronx night.
The home run, Bauers’ sixth of the season and first since June 3rd, represents just his 13th hit in the month of June; fortunately for him, nine of those have gone for extra bases, allowing him to continue to be a positive presence in the lineup.
The 2023 rendition of #NextManUp was not done yet, however. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, Billy McKinney got in on the action with an upper deck home run into the right field seats; this one traveled 414 feet, had an exit velocity of 109 mph, and would have gone out in all 30 MLB ballparks.
It’s hard to understate the important role these two batters have played in the Yankees lineup this month. Since Aaron Judge crashed into the wall in LA on June 3rd, McKinney’s 141 wRC+ leads the team. Third place on the list is Bauers with 102, with Higashioka’s 104 wRC+ sandwiched between them. This trio represents the only three Yankees hitters who have been above-average at the plate across these last 14 games, and are a big reason why they’ve managed to come away with six wins at all.
One of those underperforming batters is Volpe, whose 62 wRC+ since Judge’s injury looks even more depressing once you realize it ranks sixth on the team in that stretch. Since the now-famous chicken parm film watch with former teammate and current No. 2 prospect Austin Wells, Volpe has been stringing together quality plate appearances, and has slashed a much better .250/.318/.400 with three doubles in that time. What the shortstop was missing, however, was a big home run, and boy, did he deliver on that tonight.
At 104.9 mph off the bat and 403 feet into the left field seats, it was a home run in every ballpark except for Camden Yards’ dumb left field extension. It was his first dinger since June 4th, and it gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
And boy, did the Yankees need that insurance run. After his 5.2 shutout innings, Brito handed the ball off to Jimmy Cordero, who tossed a clean inning and a third of his own. Wandy Peralta, however, could not get through the eighth, allowing a solo shot to pinch-hitter Dylan Moore. Michael King would come on in relief and set Caballero down swinging to close off the eighth, but would himself flounder in the ninth. Rodríguez came back from a 1-2 count to work a walk, and a Ty France single brought the tying run to the plate. A Teoscar Hernández fly out to center field sent Rodríguez to third and Aaron Boone to the bullpen, summoning Tommy Kahnle to escape the jam.
Thankfully, Tommy Tightpants did just that. He induced a sacrifice fly from Jarred Kelenic that brought the Mariners within two, but then struck out Eugenio Suárez to secure the win. It was his first save in pinstripes in almost five years.
The Yankees are now back at eight games above .500 with a 41-33 record, although because the Rays beat the Orioles yesterday, they only gained ground in the Wild Card hunt, not the American League East. Nonetheless, at this point in the season, the most important thing is to stack wins and put yourself in a position to make up serious ground in head-to-head matchups, and this series win against Seattle is a good start.
The Yankees close out their series with the Mariners tomorrow night. Domingo Germán gets the ball for the Bombers, looking to make up for his disastrous outing against the Red Sox and help the Yankees complete the sweep; he will be up against Bryan Woo. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 pm ET, and as always, we will be here at Pinstripe Alley with all the coverage you need.