Well that one stunk. The Yankees dropped the weekend series opener to the Rays, 10-5. Playing baseball at Tropicana Field simply continues to be the worst, folks.
Tampa Bay unveiled their 2020 American League Pennant banner today and played like it was last season all over again. The Rays scored just 23 runs in 6 games to start this season, paired with a not so good 5.87 ERA. So naturally, Tampa Bay’s bats broke out this afternoon to an extent that it didn’t matter that the Yankees plated five.
Both the Yankees and Rays are now 3-4. Let’s get to the takeaways from this loss after the jump.
Everything unraveled in the third inning. I’m analyzing Kluber’s outing in reverse order today — more on the first two innings in a bit — because the third inning was the turning point of this game.
Kluber faced five batters before Aaron Boone yanked him in the third. Let’s break it down at-bat by at-bat.
- Yoshi Tsutsugo leadoff single: Kluber got to 0-2 here, but then couldn’t finish the job. Tsutsugo wouldn’t expand the zone, and finally, got a middle-middle sinker to pound off the right field wall for a long single. We can’t forget about the foul ball mid at-bat that Gleyber Torres couldn’t track down in foul territory though. It was a tough play, especially at the Trop, but it would have been nice to pick up Kluber there considering all of the other defensive miscues in this game (more on that in soon). Really can’t blame Gleyber here though.
- Austin Meadows walks: Again, Kluber got ahead in the count but couldn’t finish the job. He went from 1-2 to issuing a free pass.
- Randy Arozarena singles on a sharp grounder past Tyler Wade’s dive: No faulting Kluber here, really. The command was good and Arozarena just went with the pitch he got.
- Brandon Lowe strikes out: Matt Blake came out for a mound visit before this one. And as you can see, Kluber started mixing in some good changeups to help record the first out of the frame.
- Yandy Díaz walks: I think Kluber was out of gas at this point. He had thrown 27 pitches in the inning entering this matchup. He threw a ton of curveballs, which is the book against Yandy, but it didn’t work out.
So, a few things going on here. Namely: Kluber couldn’t finish his opponents off. It happened in the first plate appearance of the frame all the way down to the final one. At the same time though, he also got beat on a good pitch (Arozarena) and theoretically could have gotten some help from Torres on what was undeniably a difficult play.
Ultimately though, this was not a pretty finish for Kluber and I’d say the onus is on him for this one. His command simply wasn’t very good, which is something he needs badly to be successful. He’s had great command for the entirety of his career, so hopefully we get to see it on a more consistent basis again soon. After all, he did look pretty sharp to start this game off.
I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Kluber is a slow starter historically. He owns a 3.88 career ERA in April, easily his highest in all months. But let’s also keep in mind that he’s pitching after practically two years of not doing so. Maybe there’s some rust he’s still shaking off.
Anyway, once Kluber’s day was done, the Rays had loaded the bases and cut the Yankees’ lead to 4-3. Aaron Boone summoned Nick Nelson, who’d been great up until today. Different story this afternoon though, as Nelson allowed two of inherited runs to score, plus four more the next frame to effectively put this one out of reach.
The infield defense strikes again. After Kluber tossed an easy 10 pitch first inning, his defense let him down in the second frame. Kluber struck out Brandon Lowe to start the inning, but the typically surehanded DJ LeMahieu and Tyler Wade opened the floodgates thereafter.
First, Yandy Díaz dribbled a soft grounder (.050 xBA) to LeMahieu at third. After fielding it on the charge, LeMahieu’s throw to first base was off target and pulled Jay Bruce off the bag. The next batter, Joey Wendle, chopped one to Tyler Wade’s left (.090 xBA). Wade, inserted into the lineup late at second base, let this one get under the glove as he tried to range over. It wasn’t an *easy* play, but it’s one someone like him is supposed to make.
Look, it’s hard to ask your pitchers to record four or five outs in an inning. Sometimes you need them to pick the fielders up too, though. That said, Kluber does need his infield to be on its toes when he pitches. The righty owns a lifetime 1.34 ground ball to fly ball ratio, so it’s important that he gets some help behind him. Unfortunately, it just so happened that two of the teams better defenders made mistakes today.
The bullpen wasn’t going to dominate all season long. Entering this game, only the Padres had a lower bullpen ERA (0.91) than the Yankees (1.00). Yanks relievers had the best FIP (1.96) though, for what it’s worth. Those marks ballooned today, though the majority of that is due to Nelson’s performance.
I already touched on Nelson letting things get away in the third and fourth frames. The young righty came into this game with 5 strikeouts against 8 batters faced in the early going and had looked great in doing so. He struck out three more today, but he also struggled with control (one walk and one hit batter). Tampa Bay also hit some rockets against him.
Look, bad games happen. I still really love Nelson’s fastball-changeup combination in relief. I liked Boone’s decision to go to him early in this one, too. He has the ability to strike out lots of batters (clearly) and was a good candidate to escape Kluber’s mess. It just didn’t work out.
Lucas Luetge followed Nelson and pitched well, at least. His lone big blemish was Willy Adames’ solo blast in the seventh. Otherwise, the story of spring training gave up two other hits and struck out four. Like he did in camp, Luetge garnered a ton of whiffs: 11 on 26 swings (42 percent).
Luis Cessa tossed a scoreless ninth, but he got some defensive help from Aaron Hicks who turned a shoestring catch into a double play.
- Gio Urshela was a late scratch in this one. He’s experiencing some side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. It doesn’t sound like this will be too long of an absence.
- Aaron Hicks recorded his first extra base hit of the season: a two-run homer against Rich Hill. Good to see him put a nice hack on a ball after a slow start. Giancarlo Stanton (two-run single) and DJ LeMahieu (solo homer) were responsible for the rest of the Yankees’ run scoring.
- After the top three of LeMahieu, Stanton, and Hicks, the four through nine hitters had a rough day. They went 3-for-21 with a walk and eight strikeouts.
- Clint Frazier and Jay Bruce tallied five strikeouts combined. Bruce also bounced into a 4-6-3 double play. Eek, really bad day for him.
- The Yankees have Albert Abreu, Michael King, Rob Brantly, and Kellin Deglan on the taxi squad (Mike Ford was too before the Urshela transaction). King can’t be recalled until the 16th, and considering how much of the bullpen was used today, we might see Abreu come up for tomorrow’s game. (Lindsey Adler)
Both sides are back at it tomorrow. Here’s to a rebound game. First pitch is just after 1 o’clock. Have a good night, everyone.