Gleyber Torres passes first test since surgery with flying colors

Gleyber Torres passes first test since surgery with flying colors

TAMPA — You can debate whether Gleyber Torres is going to be the Yankees’ Opening Day second baseman for the next five weeks, but one thing is for certain: His future is extremely important to the organization.

So when Tigers leadoff hitter Leonys Martin hit a ground ball toward the middle leading off Friday’s initial exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field, manager Aaron Boone admitted his heart rate spiked when Torres laid out for a ball, which he didn’t catch.

After all, Torres is coming back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.

“You do hold your breath a little more for your guys now in this role,’’ Boone said following a 3-1 Yankees victory. “Even though it’s a spring-training game, you want to see guys get in the flow of the game as early as they can.’’

Five innings was Torres’ first taste of a game since last June 16, when he injured himself on a slide at the plate. Four days later, the Yankees’ top prospect had the surgery.

Torres said he had the wind knocked out of him Friday, but was more annoyed he didn’t make the play.

“I feel badly I didn’t catch the ball,’’ said Torres, who also explained there was no significance in him wearing a T-shirt that read, “I’m Back 3-18-95,” which is the date Michael Jordan returned to the NBA (before Torres was born on Dec. 13, 1996). “I am excited and feel super happy right now.’’

Who wouldn’t be jazzed? Torres is 21, considered among the elite prospects in baseball and has a chance to be the Yankees’ Opening Day second baseman.

“Excited for what lies ahead for him and the kind of player and person he is,’’ Boone said of Torres, who was limited to 55 games last year, when he batted a combined .287 with seven homers, 34 RBIs, a .383 on-base percentage and a .863 OPS for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He went 0-for-2 Friday.

Torres, who is competing against Danny Espinosa, Jace Peterson and Tyler Wade to replace Starlin Castro, insisted his mind isn’t consumed with the competition.

“My focus right now is to play hard, stay focused, stay humble and do my job,’’ Torres said. “I don’t think about winning the job.’’

The Yankees can point to the lack of playing time last season as a reason to send him to Triple-A. And if they do that and don’t recall him until April 14, they will gain another year of financial control over the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder.

Boone said he understands what Torres means to the franchise, but when his big league career will get underway remains a mystery because the first-year manager insists there is more than one horse in the race.

“To a degree, wide open I would say,’’ Boone said about the second-base derby. “We have some talented guys like Espinosa and Jace Peterson who have done some things at the big league level. Especially Espi who has had a good career to this point and is an outstanding defender. And we are excited about Tyler Wade.’’

And utility infielder Ronald Torreyes is very capable of playing second base.

Espinosa and Peterson are in camp on minor league deals and would require opening up a spot on the 40-man roster. Wade and Torres are on the 40-man roster.

“There are a lot of guys in that mix. It’s one of those spots that will become clearer as camp unfolds,’’ Boone said. “Hopefully by the end, it will be clear to everyone. We have a number of guys we feel good about that whatever decision we make at the end of camp we feel like we have the potential for that to be a strong spot.’’

Aaron Boone gets a new view, win in spring training debut

Aaron Boone gets a new view, win in spring training debut

TAMPA  — Aaron Boone walked to home plate for his first game as a manager at any level and was greeted by Detroit’s Ron Gardenhire, a 60-year-old baseball lifer back in charge of a big-league team for the first time in four years.

“I told him to go easy on me,” Boone said. “I didn’t want to look him in the eye — like Jedi mind trick on me or something.”

Hired to replace Joe Girardi, the former ESPN broadcaster managed the Yankees over the Tigers 3-1 on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon in their spring training opener.

Boone arrived at Steinbrenner Field at about 7 a.m., his usual time, six hours before the first pitch. He got in an early morning workout, was in the famous pinstriped uniform more than an hour before game time and wore his cap high on his forehead, like Joe Torre did when Boone helped the 2003 Yankees reach the World Series with a pennant-winning home run.

Boone watched the game from a folding chair on the home plate side of the Yankees dugout, with new bench coach Josh Bard alongside. He tapped his chest, giving signals to a lineup that included big-league home run champion Giancarlo Stanton, who walked and grounded into a double play in his first game since Miami dealt him to New York. Boone said it was likely the first time he watched an entire game from the dugout area since he was a young player in the 1990s.

“One of the things for me anyway in spring training is just kind of really getting on the same page communicating with my coaches, whether it’s through signs, whether it’s through comments or whether it’s just through non-verbal understanding of each other,” Boone said. “Those are the things that for me personally will be something that I really want to iron out and button up here over the next five or so weeks.”

Related: Just win and everything will be fine (maybe)

New York is opening Steinbrenner Field’s gates three hours before each game, an hour earlier than before. But those who came to gawk and ball-hawk were disappointed — Stanton hit at the minor-league complex, and AL home run champion Aaron Judge took batting practice on a back field.

Anticipation and expectation have soared since Judge and Gary Sanchez led the new-look Baby Bombers to Game 7 of the AL Championship Series last October, back at a high level for the first time since the desiccated remnants of the Core Four plus A-Rod era repeatedly flopped following the 2009 title.
“Even in BP and just in practice, people are watching. They’re not just at the park having a good time,” first baseman Greg Bird said. “Yeah, there was definitely a buzz.”

Boone has not instituted revolutionary changes to a team Girardi managed for a decade. Bard’s workout chart with boxes in green, blue, red and yellow has replaced the monochromatic editions of his predecessor, Rob Thomson. The manager’s office has the same generic Yankees photos and inspirational quotes. The only hint of personalization is on the white board containing the schedule — notations for days when family arrives and departs.

New York wanted generational change, and it went for a 44-year-old in a three-generation baseball family. Boone was caught by television microphones chirped “Good job, Birdy!” at his first baseman, much like most managers would.

“That’s ball talk. That’s my whole life,” Boone said. “I’ll throw things out there. I don’t think I’m going to be overly rah-rah or anything like that, but you’ll hear me.”

Boone had worked as a television commentator since his final season as a player in 2009. The dugout view is quite different when you’re in charge.
On the second pitch of the game, second baseman Gleyber Torres sprawled attempting a backhand stop of Leonys Martin’s grounder, which glanced off his glove for an infield hit. Playing for the first time since tearing a ligament in his left elbow during a headfirst slide at Triple A last June, Torres got up a tad slowly.

“You do hold your breath a little more for your guys now in this role, no question,” Boone said.

Stanton, tall and chiseled, brings a star air with him from Miami. He spoke in the clubhouse with gold-colored Monster headphones lifted just above his ears, happy to have escaped the perennially rebuilding Marlins.

“This is better. More excitement,” he said. “Can’t wait to see what we can do. That’s what would be the difference.”

Bird watched from the vicinity of the on-deck circle as the big hunk hit.

“I got the best view in the house besides the catcher,” he said.

Boone liked his vantage point, too. He took notice when top prospect Estevan Florial missed a pitch in the fifth inning and let his bat fly over the new netting atop the first-base dugout and into the seats, where a fan made a one-handed grab.

“I turned to Josh Bard and said it always amazes me when guys torpedo the bat like that,” Boone said. “I had a death grip on that thing, so I don’t think I ever let go of one.”

An attitude that likely carries over to his new job.

The Yankees are lucky there will be no pitch clock

The Yankees are lucky there will be no pitch clock

On Monday, the Commissioner’s Office issued new pace-of-play rules for the 2018 season. There had been well-worn rumors that MLB was going to unilaterally install a pitch clock, forcing the player’s union into a situation they’d almost certainly fight against on their own. Instead, baseball is rolling out a limit on catcher’s visits, kicking the can of pitch clocks down the road.

A pitch clock probably is inevitable, and if we’re being honest, I don’t think it would be the worst thing to happen to baseball. As a Yankees fan, though, the possibility of a pitch clock presents a serious problem for the team’s current rotation.

Heading into the first games of Spring Training, it appears the Yankees’ starting rotation will consist of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. Of course, more than these five pitchers will be called upon to make starts in 2018, but the above class should get the lion’s share of starts barring injury or catastrophe. This is an awfully slow group.

There were 134 pitchers in MLB who threw at least 100 innings in 2018. Among those pitchers, the average “pace”, or time it took to deliver a pitch, was 23.6 seconds. The Yankees’ rotation featured three pitchers above the average and a fourth – Sabathia – that was exactly average. Only Severino (22.6 seconds) came in significantly under the mean. Gray, meanwhile, was the slowest pitcher in all of baseball, with a squirm-inducing 28.6 seconds between every pitch.

Part of this is probably by design, and another part by circumstance. The Yankees’ staff is well-known for throwing fewer fastballs than most major league teams; Gray, Montgomery, and Tanaka earn their livings with offspeed and breaking pitches. Deeper repertoires with more pitches, and varying speeds, will naturally increase the time between each individual pitch. Further, the fact that the Yankees essentially had a rookie catcher for most of 2017 probably slowed the game down, as Gary Sanchez was learning his pitcher’s preferences on the fly.

Even after accounting for a pitcher’s arsenal and catching situation, it’s clear the Yankees would be among the teams most affected by a pitch clock. In fact, the only team to have more above-average players on the pace list than the Yankees was the Detroit Tigers. There’s no real correlation between pace and quality of performance, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees’ glacial pace shouldn’t be a concern going forward.

A pitch clock is likely going to come to MLB. It’s been in the minors for two seasons now. As the majors look to shave every possible minute off average game length, it will eventually be on the table in the big leagues. It’s unclear whether Rob Manfred would opt to roll out a clock in phases or all at once, but with a pitching staff that’s mostly under control for the next few seasons, it’d be wise of the Yankees to get ahead of the curve. They should start quickening up their own pace before penalties start being assessed.

Does Tyler Austin already have Yankees spot locked up?

Does Tyler Austin already have Yankees spot locked up?

TAMPA — Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin has maybe the best shot of his career at making an Opening Day roster.

Don’t tell him that, though.

“I try not to think about what’s going to happen at the end of spring,” he said Wednesday in the clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Here’s what he’s thinking about, instead.

“I think the big thing to me at this point is just to stay healthy,” he said. “I think I believe I can perform in the big leagues. I just have to stay healthy and play. That’s the biggest thing for me at the moment.”

Stanton plays 1st Yankees game

Probably a good idea.

Especially considering the 2017 he had.

Austin had gotten quite familiar with the disabled list before last season. A former top prospect, injuries led to ineffectiveness at the plate, and the Yankees designated him for assignment after the 2015 season.

But a resurgent 2016 put him back on the prospect map and gave him his first taste in the majors.

Then injury struck. As he was battling Chris Carter to back up Greg Bird going into last year, he fouled a ball off his foot and fractured his left ankle before spring training could start, landing himself on the 60-day disabled list until June. A few weeks later, the Yankees brought him to the majors, and a hamstring strain landed him back on the DL and hampered him the rest of the year.

But Austin has reason to think this season could be different. 

The Yankees didn’t sign a Carter-type to battle him for the job. And manager Aaron Boone has said the team would prefer somebody more familiar with first base to back up the oft-injured Bird than Austin Romine, their backup catcher who played the position more frequently than the Yankees would have liked last year.

Boone also cited Austin’s right-handed pop as a plus.

“Like I said, I haven’t given too much of that any kind of thought,” Austin said.

If he stays healthy, he probably won’t have to.

Spring roundup: Stanton hitless in Yankees debut

Spring roundup: Stanton hitless in Yankees debut

Giancarlo Stanton made his first appearance in a New York uniform and Jorge Saez went 2-for-3 with a two-run single as the Yankees opened spring-training play by defeating the Detroit Tigers 3-1 on Friday at Tampa, Fla.

Stanton, the reigning National League MVP, was acquired from the Miami Marlins in an offseason trade and walked and hit into a double play in two plate appearances. Chad Huffman delivered a run-scoring single in the first inning for the Tigers.

Results from Friday’s spring training games:

Brewers (ss) 2, Cubs 1

Eric Sogard delivered a two-run triple in the fourth inning as Milwaukee edged Chicago at Maryvale, Ariz. Both teams, as well as all the other teams playing Friday, wore hats with the logo and colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site where 17 people were killed on Feb. 14 and the alma mater of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Astros 3, Nationals 2

J.D. Davis connected on the tiebreaking homer in the fifth inning as defending World Series champion Houston defeated Washington. Max Stassi hit a two-run homer in the third inning for the Astros, while Chris Dominguez and Jose Marmolejos provided run-scoring singles for the Nationals.

Dodgers 13, White Sox 5

Matt Kemp hit a three-run homer and Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez and Logan Forsythe hit solo shots as Los Angeles rolled over Chicago at Glendale, Ariz. Tim Anderson hit a three-run blast for the White Sox.

Red Sox 4, Twins 3

Jeremy Barfield connected on a two-run double during a three-run fourth inning to help Boston edge Minnesota at Fort Myers, Fla. Ryan LaMarre drove in all three runs for the Twins.

Marlins 6, Cardinals 4

Scott Van Slyke blasted two homers and drove in five runs as Miami defeated St. Louis at Jupiter, Fla. Former Marlin Marcell Ozuna served as the designated hitter for the Cardinals and went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in three plate appearances.

Rays (ss) 6, Orioles 3

Kevin Padlo hit a two-run homer and Nick Ciuffo delivered a two-run single as Tampa Bay knocked off Baltimore at Sarasota, Fla. Chance Sisco hit a three-run homer for the Orioles.

Blue Jays 2, Phillies 1

Curtis Granderson homered on the first pitch of the game and Joe Biagini pitched two shutout innings as Toronto edged Philadelphia at Dunedin, Fla. Danny Ortiz homered in the eighth for Philadelphia.

Rays (ss) 6, Pirates 3

Adeiny Hechavarria homered and Denard Span had two hits as Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh at Port Charlotte, Fla. Austin Meadows went 3-for-3 with two RBIs for the Pirates.

Mets 6, Braves 2

Zach Borenstein smacked a tying two-run double during a six-run eighth inning as New York rallied to defeat Atlanta at Port St. Lucie, Fla. Right-hander Matt Wisler started with two shutout innings for the Braves.

Reds 6, Indians 4

Tucker Barnhart and Brandon Dixon hit two-run homers to help Cincinnati down Cleveland at Goodyear, Ariz. Yonder Alonso went deep for the Indians in his first at-bat with the club.

Mariners 3, Padres 2

Kyle Seager went 2-for-2 with an RBI double to help Seattle slip past San Diego at Peoria, Ariz. Fernando Tatis Jr. homered for the Padres.

Brewers (ss) 6, Giants 5

Lorenzo Cain went 2-for-2 in his return to the Milwaukee organization, and the Brewers took advantage of six San Francisco errors in the victory at Scottsdale, Ariz. Pablo Sandoval and Nick Hundley homered for the Giants, while offseason acquisition Andrew McCutchen went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.

Diamondbacks 7, Rockies 6 (10)

Galli Cribbs and Daniel Robertson notched run-scoring singles in the top of the 10th, and Arizona held on to defeat Colorado at Scottsdale, Ariz. Raimel Tapia and Brendan Rodgers homered for the Rockies.

Athletics 9, Angels 8

Anthony Garcia slapped a two-run single with one out in the bottom of the ninth to lift Oakland to victory over Los Angeles at Mesa, Ariz. Chris Carter drove in two runs for the Angels.

–Field Level Media

Spring roundup: Stanton hitless in Yankees' debut

Spring roundup: Stanton hitless in Yankees' debut

Giancarlo Stanton made his first appearance in a New York uniform and Jorge Saez went 2-for-3 with a two-run single as the Yankees opened spring-training play by defeating the Detroit Tigers 3-1 on Friday at Tampa, Fla.

Stanton, the reigning National League MVP, was acquired from the Miami Marlins in an offseason trade and walked and hit into a double play in two plate appearances. Chad Huffman delivered a run-scoring single in the first inning for the Tigers.

Results from Friday’s spring training games:

Brewers (ss) 2, Cubs 1

Eric Sogard delivered a two-run triple in the fourth inning as Milwaukee edged Chicago at Maryvale, Ariz. Both teams wore hats with the logo and colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site where 17 people were killed on Feb. 14 and the alma mater of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Astros 3, Nationals 2

J.D. Davis connected on the tiebreaking homer in the fifth inning as defending World Series champion Houston defeated Washington. Max Stassi hit a two-run homer in the third inning for the Astros, while Chris Dominguez and Jose Marmolejos provided run-scoring singles for the Nationals.

Dodgers 13, White Sox 5

Matt Kemp hit a three-run homer and Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez and Logan Forsythe hit solo shots as Los Angeles rolled over Chicago at Glendale, Ariz. Tim Anderson hit a three-run blast for the White Sox.

Red Sox 4, Twins 3

Jeremy Barfield connected on a two-run double during a three-run fourth inning to help Boston edge Minnesota at Fort Myers, Fla. Ryan LaMarre drove in all three runs for the Twins.

Marlins 6, Cardinals 4

Scott Van Slyke blasted two homers and drove in five runs as Miami defeated St. Louis at Jupiter, Fla. Former Marlin Marcell Ozuna served as the designated hitter for the Cardinals and went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in three plate appearances.

Rays (ss) 6, Orioles 3

Kevin Padlo hit a two-run homer and Nick Ciuffo delivered a two-run single as Tampa Bay knocked off Baltimore at Sarasota, Fla. Chance Sisco hit a three-run homer for the Orioles.

Blue Jays 2, Phillies 1

Curtis Granderson homered on the first pitch of the game and Joe Biagini pitched two shutout innings as Toronto edged Philadelphia at Dunedin, Fla. Danny Ortiz homered in the eighth for Philadelphia.

Rays (ss) 6, Pirates 3

Adeiny Hechavarria homered and Denard Span had two hits as Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh at Port Charlotte, Fla. Austin Meadows went 3-for-3 with two RBIs for the Pirates.

Mets 6, Braves 2

Zach Borenstein smacked a tying two-run double during a six-run eighth inning as New York rallied to defeat Atlanta at Port St. Lucie, Fla. Right-hander Matt Wisler started with two shutout innings for the Braves.

Reds 6, Indians 4

Tucker Barnhart and Brandon Dixon hit two-run homers to help Cincinnati down Cleveland at Goodyear, Ariz. Yonder Alonso went deep for the Indians in his first at-bat with the club.

Mariners 3, Padres 2

Kyle Seager went 2-for-2 with an RBI double to help Seattle slip past San Diego at Peoria, Ariz. Fernando Tatis Jr. homered for the Padres.

–Field Level Media