Game 56: Yankees hold off the Rays, 4-3

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Exhale, everyone. The Yankees have now won two straight nail-biters against the Rays, with tonight’s final: 4-3. It probably shouldn’t have been this close, as I’ll touch on in the takeaways, but a win’s a win. The Yankees are now 31-25 and 3.5 games behind Tampa Bay for first place. To the takeaways we go:

Clint Frazier may have turned the corner. At least, I sure hope so. Entering tonight’s game, the young outfielder was hitting .321/.387/.464 (142 wRC+) in last 31 plate appearances, along with a good 89.5 MPH average exit velocity (he averaged 89.4 last year, which was in the 61st percentile, for reference). Tonight, he walked twice and delivered a clutch two-run single in the fourth.

This big hit is on the heels of last night’s game-winning walk-off two-run homer. Frazier’s now reached base in five straight games and has really been quite productive over the last week and change. Before this recent mini-streak, Frazier was hitting .150/.278/.299 (69 wRC+). He’s now up to .190/.311/.336 (88 wRC+). Still not pretty, but it’s trending in the right direction.

The Yankees badly need hitters other than Aaron Judge to get going, and Frazier is one of the many who’ve scuffled. It’s going to take more than just Frazier turning things around to get the entire offense going, but at this point, I’ll take it. Now, let’s just hope this isn’t small sample size noise and instead the start of better things.

The fundamentals needed to get better yesterday. Two fielding errors and two baserunning gaffes made this one a lot closer than it should have been. Jordan Montgomery and Rougned Odor picked up errors in innings that led to runs, as I’ll touch on in a bit.

Meanwhile, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres gifted the Rays two outs on the basepaths in the seventh. They started the inning with a double and a walk, which poised the Yankees to pick up some insurance runs. Instead, Urshela was nabbed at third base while trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt for the first out. Bad. And then, Gleyber was picked off first base for the final out of the frame after replay review overturned the original safe call. Ugh.

It’s pretty tiring writing about this on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully, these mistakes didn’t cost the Yankees the victory, but it sure made things interesting. It’d be nice if the Yankees could get the basics together. Please.

Aaron Boone had little choice but to push Jordan Montgomery. Before tonight’s 99 pitch outing, the lefty hadn’t thrown more than 90 pitches in a start this season. Montgomery had 86 pitches through six tonight, which under normal circumstances, probably would have been the end of his night. But given the bullpen’s recent usage, it was smart for Boone to extend Montgomery for the bottom of Tampa Bay’s order in the seventh.

Unfortunately, that seventh didn’t go as hoped. Monty made a bad error to start the frame, then allowed a single, before a strikeout-double steal ended his evening. Jonathan Loaisiga entered thereafter in spite of 28 pitches thrown yesterday and nearly escaped with a 4-2 lead. He struck out Randy Arozarena, but gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi. Loaisiga was so close to fielding Choi’s hit to escape the frame, too. Alas.

I don’t think Montgomery had his best stuff tonight, but he pitched pretty well nonetheless. He had just two 1-2-3 innings: the third and sixth frames. And in spite of recording six strikeouts, the southpaw picked up just 10 whiffs on 53 swings (19 percent). That’s well below his 28.3 percent mark entering this start. From the baserunners (nine, including two errors) to lack of whiffs, it wasn’t an easy outing for Montgomery.

For what he lacked in put away stuff, he did bear down in some key moments. Tampa Bay tallied runs in both the fourth and fifth innings against the Yankees’ starter, but those frames could have been worse.

Austin Meadows and Mike Brosseau singled and doubled to start the fourth, but Monty escaped by retiring the next three (with help from some bad baserunning: Brosseau got thrown out trying to go to third on a ground ball to Gleyber Torres).

In the fifth, Montgomery walked the leadoff hitter Taylor Walls. Very frustrating after the Yankees grabbed a 4-1 lead in the bottom half of the fourth. Then, Rougned Odor made an ugly throwing error to put two on and two out. But once again, Monty limited the damage by retiring the next three he faced. Although it included a sacrifice fly for a run, it could have been worse.

Montgomery now has a 3.92 ERA and 3.53 FIP in 59.2 innings this season. As you may recall, he had a somewhat similar FIP last season (3.87) but a much higher ERA (5.11). One reason his ERA and FIP are better aligned this season? The tall lefty is doing a better job with runners on base, just like in today’s game. Last year, Montgomery had a not-so-good 65 percent strand rate. This year, it’s 68.7 percent. That’s still not great (below league average of 72 percent, and below his career mark of 72.3 percent), but it’s better than no improvement whatsoever.

Leftovers:

  • At least Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres hit today: Urshela was in the midst of a 1-for-19 slide before a two-run homer in the first inning opened the scoring. He also tallied a double. Gleyber went 2-for-3 with a double himself. Like I mentioned with Clint earlier, the Yankees could really use more bats coming around ASAP.
  • Aroldis Chapman makes it interesting: After back-to-back walks to start the 9th up 4-3, the closer escaped by retiring the next three. Phew.
  • Bullpen notes: After throwing more than 25 pitches each yesterday, Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green both went again today. And since Chapman pitched yesterday too, figure all three are unavailable tomorrow afternoon. Hey, at least Gerrit Cole gets the ball.
  • Aaron Judge in center: That went fine, right? He had one opportunity and converted it before moving over to right later in the game as Brett Gardner entered.
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6 Comments

  1. Yaron

    Judge played center? What do people think?

    • Esteddardban Florial

      He did fine, Yaron. Better to get those 3 righty bats in vs the lefty than run Gardy out there. Miggy and Clint need to be playing nearly every day.

    • MikeD

      What’s weird is there have been indications all season long that Judge is dealing with “lower-body” issues, and they’ve taken every opportunity to DH him, including sitting Stanton just so Judge can DH, but then they surprisingly put him in CF. (He looked fine on the one easy play he made.)

      It’s clear they have zero intentions of letting Clint Frazier play out there even though they told the media they were “looking at it.” That’s Boone-speak for I acknowledge your question but I won’t answer it honestly. So they won’t even play Clint in CF as a one-game experiment, despite being signed as a CFer and playing over 300 games in CF in the minors. I get he’s not a great defensive OFer, but the Yankees hold too hard to certain ideas without altering their views based on the circumstances. They did the same when Tauchman was here. Even though he was a CFer in the minors, they decided he couldn’t play CF and would only do so in absolute emergencies. Ditto when Cameron Maybin was here too. This is a team that let Bernie Williams play CF for about five years too long, now they won’t even try a one-game experiment with a player who has played over 300 games in the minors in CF when there’s a clear need at the moment. Instead, they’ll put their most valuable property in CF when he’s dealing with lower-body issues. Weird.

  2. Wire Fan

    While the poor fundamental play didn’t cost the Yankees a win, it likely cost them the availability of at least 1 or 2 of the pitchers that worked tonight.

    Monty gets thru 7 with clean fielding which saves one of the setup men. And who knows how the bottom of the 7th plays out without the idiotic baserunning. Maybe they tack on a run or two and chapman or both setup men don’t need to work.

    That is the hidden cost of the poor fundamentals which never gets accounted for. It is time to address the base-running, whether it is taking a look at who is coaching these guys or just doing base-running drills pre game or on a day off, something has to change.

    Was good to see Gio homer, he has been struggling. And fingers crossed on Frazier having turned things around.

  3. Mungo

    A painful win, but a win nonetheless. This is the type of game the Yankees of recent vintage would have lost to the Rays. Instead, it’s two straight and four of six against against the Rays. Let’s hope they make it five of seven and do what they often haven’t this year when it’s time to close out a series win with a statement.

  4. Dan Hermann

    I wanna know why Catfish Hunter was not mentioned once during this Lou Gehrig Day activities.

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