So much for tempering expectations.
Jasson Domínguez and Austin Wells arrived in the majors with emphasis on Friday, highlighting a series-opening win over the Astros that showed a glimpse at a future brighter than whatever we’ve been watching for the last five months. The pair both notched hits in their first big league tries, and stung a couple others that landed for outs. You only get one first impression, and all-in-all, this was a pretty solid one.
Stepping to the plate in a major league game for the first time has to be intimidating under any circumstances. Doing so against a pitcher literally twice your age with more than 250 wins under his belt and bound for Cooperstown? Unfathomably so. There are going to be lots of emotions, in any case. Domínguez admitted it himself in his interview with YES after the game! But we’ll get there.
If there were any nerves, perhaps Domínguez’s answer to them was to swing, swing, swing. Domínguez isn’t a free-swinger — he has more than 80 walks in the minors already this year — but he was as aggressive as you can be against Verlander. He saw four pitches, and swung at three of them, putting all three in play. The veteran righty welcomed him to the show by sneaking in a first-pitch curveball for a straight, then he decided to challenge him with a fastball.
That turned out to be a mistake.
It looked as if the game plan for Verlander was to make the 20-year-old beat him on the kinds of high heaters he probably hasn’t seen a ton of in the low- and mid-minors. But it also might have just looked that way because Domínguez didn’t give Verlander a chance to do anything else. Kevin already talked about the historic fun facts surrounding the homer last night, so if that piques your interest, check it out here.
The next time up, Verlander started Domínguez straightaway with a fastball, and once again he managed to square it up, shooting it over 102 mph off the bat straight at Yordan Alvarez in left field.
Third time up? Same thing. Except this time, instead of leaving it out over the plate, Verlander got it in on Domínguez’s hands enough that he could only fist it on the ground for an out.
The rookie’s final trip to the plate of the evening came against the high-octane Ryne Stanek, and he still showed good poise and decisiveness, not showing any temptation to swing at a first-pitch ball way out of the zone before hacking at yet another heater of the plate, and once again getting some solid contact out of it, stinging it 99 mph to the front corner of the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Austin Wells’ day wasn’t quite as impressive, but he still caught a good performance from Carlos Rodón and the Yankees’ pitching’ staff, which held Houston to two runs on four hits and two walks. Any breakdown of his specific glovework would require a separate, more in-depth look than we can provide right now, but the Yankees know that he needs polish. Wells is never going to be as smooth as Jose Trevino back there; he’ll work on his framing and that’s OK for now.
As far as offense goes, Wells managed to get the monkey off his back early, working an excellent seven-pitch at-bat against Verlander to open his career at the plate. He ended it by lining a single through the middle.
With 28 homers in less than a season’s worth of career games at Double- and Triple-A, Wells’ power is his calling card, rather than his up-the-middle contact seeking, and he didn’t get a chance to tap in to that against the Astros, unfortunately.
While they went directly at Domínguez with fastballs, Houston pitchers took the opposite approach with Wells, tip-toeing around him and forcing him to read and adapt to big-league quality offspeed stuff, rather than feeding him fastballs we already know he can hit. Verlander gave him almost exclusively sliders, curveballs, and changeups his first couple times up, and when he did throw him a fastball, Wells — like Domínguez — attacked it. Also like with Domínguez, though, it was too far in for Wells to turn on it effectively, and it wound up a pop out.
The catcher managed to make much more solid contact the next time he got a fastball, a few innings later, but even with no extreme shift, defensive positioning is still a thing.
Wells worked a 3-0 count in his last chance at the plate before flying out to left field with a strike on him, finishing his first day in the bigs having seen 20 pitches to Domínguez’s six. That probably won’t be the pattern moving forward, but given the results, it’s certainly a promising start!
Even at 20 years old, Domínguez showed good bat-to-ball ability against pitchers with substantially above-average stuff, and Wells showed a hint of why he can be dangerous if he can let himself not be beat with soft stuff. It’s just two hits, but it ought to be two of many!