The season is only four games old, and jumping to conclusions this soon is a dangerous game to play. That said, yesterday’s 3-0 loss to Toronto served as a reminder of some of the issues the Yankees have at hand. Some of these concerns predated the 2022 season, and although obvious opportunities existed to address such problems, the organization failed to provide answers.
Let’s set the stage from last night. In the bottom of the seventh, down 3-0, Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks reached base to start the inning against reliever Trevor Richards. Due up next were the eighth and ninth hitters, Kyle Higashioka and Marwin Gonzalez. Richards, who looked dreadful, could not be removed until facing a third hitter while the Blue Jays’ bullpen hurried a new arm.
Translation: Aaron Boone could have forced a shaky Richards to face Josh Donaldson in a pinch hit situation. He didn’t. Instead, Boone let Higashioka bat, who flew out on a 2-1 count. Then, in came sidewinder Adam Cimber, a very tough at bat for righties. Boone finally called upon Donaldson to hit for Gonzalez, but it was too late. Yes, JD hit the ball hard, but it was a double play to end the threat.
This decision came back to bite the Yankees again in the bottom of the ninth against closer Jordan Romano. With one on and two out, Higashioka ended the game with a strikeout while Donaldson waited on deck. Sigh.
Boone made a tactical mistake in the seventh, clearly. Richards was on the ropes and Donaldson had a much better chance of tying the game against him than Cimber. Higashioka just isn’t a good hitter. This wasn’t a difficult decision, and yet, it’s what happened.
Of course, the front office deserves some blame here as well. Call it apathy, call it blind faith, or call it something else, but to have hitters in the eighth and ninth spots on a nightly basis as bad as Higashioka and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (or Marwin Gonzalez, in last night’s instance) is embarrassing. You can live with one of the two in the nine spot, maybe. But two black holes? Yikes. Especially when there was a bounty of free agent shortstops available in the offseason.
Plus, it’s not like Boone’s in game tactics haven’t come under fire before. It’s well documented that making decisions on the fly isn’t his strength. Now, the front office is counting on Boone to make pivotal pinch hit decisions for the eighth and ninth hitters on a nightly basis. That’s a recipe for continued mistakes. Mistakes that could have been avoided with either: a) better players at shortstop and/or catcher or b) a better game manager. The Yankees had opportunities to make significant upgrades in both areas, but didn’t.
To make matters worse, Boone is limited to just three bench players right now. Was a fourth really not an option with 28 man rosters this month, especially in light of the brutal bottom of the order? At the very least, he would have had an opportunity to pinch hit for Higashioka in the ninth yesterday, which could have helped comb over the initial mishap.
Look, it’s not like the rest of the team was blameless for last night’s loss. It’s impossible to win scoring zero runs. In the grand scheme of things, this lineup from one through seven should be good enough to put up runs in bunches. Projections still like this team a good deal. But on nights like last yesterday against a tough starting pitcher, things need to break right on the margins. The front office and Boone did not allow that to happen yesterday, and I worry that this won’t be the last time we see this in 2022.