The Yankees jumped out to an early 6-0 lead on the Blue Jays this afternoon in Dunedin, but shaky outings by Fred Lewis and especially Preston Claiborne led to colossally awful fifth inning. Toronto scored eight runs and that was pretty much game.
Surprise starter/normal reliever Chris Leroux actually started the game off decently enough for the Yankees by throwing three innings of two-run ball. Brett Lawrie took him deep for a solo homer in the second and the Jays added a run in the third, though Leroux received some fortune that inning when Ryan Goins lined one right to Brian Roberts at second bounce for a double play to limit the damage before Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion singled consecutively against him. It was a little weird for the Yankees to start Leroux, but it's good to know he is capable of going more than an inning in case the Yankees need him during the season.
Meanwhile, the Yankees had run the score up early against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with six runs through the first couple innings. With one out in the first, Derek Jeter walked, and the trio of Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, and Kelly Johnson all singled, a rally that led to two runs. Francisco Cervelli bounced into a double play to cut the rally short, but the Yankees were back at it against Dickey with even greater force in the second.
Roberts blooped a single to right field and moved to third when Dickey threw a pickoff attempt away. Zoilo Almonte struck out, but Dean Anna stroked a double to right field, bringing Roberts home. With Brendan Ryan almost certain to start the season on the DL, the career minor leaguer appears to have a strong chance at an Opening Day roster spot on the bench. He's on the 40-man roster unlike some of the other infield candidates, so he would seem to be the favorite. Brett Gardner walked, and Jeter smoked a single to the opposite field to load the bases. Beltran stepped up to the plate in an RBI opportunity, and he capitalized by following Anna's lead with a double to right field. Two runs scored and Jeter came home on a sacrifice fly by Soriano to make it a six-run lead. Dickey loaded the bases again in the third on an error by Maicer Izturis and a couple of walks to Anna and Gardner, but this time he was able to escape with no further runs scoring. It wasn't a great day for Dickey, but he'll probably just chalk it up to "getting his work in." The offense was very quiet for the remainder of the game, as the Blue Jays' bullpen kept them to two batters over the minimum from the fourth onward.
Matt Daley retired the only batter he faced in the fourth, Lawrie, and Lewis relieved him by sandwiching the final two outs around a walk. Then, the fifth inning happened and the game went to hell. Goins doubled to center and was brought home on a Melky single to right. Lewis departed and in came Claiborne, who was horriawful. Bautista began the carnage with a double and Claiborne then drilled Encarnacion on the wrist he hurt last year, forcing him from the game. Adam Lind drove two runners in with a single to center, and Lawrie crushed a ground-rule double to left to score the fourth run of the inning. Claiborne walked Colby Rasmus to load the bases for Izturis, who brought Claiborne's day to a close with a two-run single to center, tying the game at six. Jim Miller gave up the lead on a sacrifice fly, and Melky notched his second hit of the inning, a double, to put an 8-ball on the scoreboard for the Toronto fifth inning. Mercifully, Bautista flew out to end it. Zero outs and six runs for Claiborne. Spectacular.
If Claiborne is going to pitch like this against a real lineup, then it seriously calls his roster spot into question. He has looked bad all spring and was not sharp in the second half of last year, either. It probably would not hurt him to get a little more seasoning in the minors since he was a surprise success when he was called up in May of last year. In his second time around the league, the hitters seemed to figure him out. Dellin Betances, who threw a perfect sixth, appears to have a roster spot in hand, so would it really be so bad to give Claiborne's Opening Day roster spot to someone else? Daley looks like a fine candidate, given his previous MLB success in Colorado and his fine numbers in both Triple-A and his brief September call-up last year. Claiborne doesn't need to cut completely, but letting him work out his current kinks in Triple-A right now seems preferable to him blowing leads when the games actually matter. At the very least, he shouldn't be pitching high-leverage innings when the season begins if he does make the Opening Day roster. Sigh. /rant/
The rest of the game was uneventful, as the Toronto bullpen shut the Yankees down and after Betances's perfect sixth, both Danny Burawa and Yoshinori Tateyama worked out of jams to escape their frames. There was an Eduardo Nunez GIDP because of course. Pinch-hitting for someone named Wes Wilson, someone named Tyler Blaser struck out to end the game against someone named Bobby Korecky. Spring training! It's almost over.