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.
Busy night for the bullpen last night, and with Peralta/Luetge/Cessa all pitching back-to-back days, Brooks Kriske is up from Triple-A to give the Yanks an extra arm (Mike Ford was sent down)— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) June 2, 2021
Kriske pitched last night for the RailRiders, but only 10 pitches in a scoreless inning pic.twitter.com/xN2eJiHoSY
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.
- 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.