New York Yankees‘ Ace Masahiro Tanaka faced his first hurdle of the 2016 season and leaped it with plenty of room to spare.
New York Yankees 5 (2-3)
Philadelphia Phillies 6 (3-3)
Grapefruit League, Final Game Box Score
Bright House Networks, Clearwater, Florida
By Christian Kouroupakis
New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka is recovering from off season elbow surgery to remove a bone spur, and pitched marvelously in his first live outing since last season’s Wild Card loss to the Houston Astros last fall.
“[I was] getting some runners on base, missing my spots here and there,” Tanaka told Hoch. “I think that was kind of some of the not good parts about today. I think as we go deeper into more games, that should become better.”
The right hander pitched two scoreless innings during the 6-5 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday afternoon at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. Tanaka struck out two, walked one and surrendered two hits in the 31 pitch outing, and got help from Rob Refsnyder, who made his professional debut at third base.
After a pair of singles, the Phillies had runners at first and second with nobody out with Carlos Ruiz at the dish. Ruiz ripped a sharp ground ball into the 5-6 hole and Refsnyder snatched it and turned a no doubt RBI single into a 5-4-3 double play.
“That was huge,” Tanaka told MLB.com’s Brian Hoch through an interpreter. “There was some velocity on the ball. I thought it was huge that Ref made that play for us.”
Refsnyder played some third base and even some outfield during his college days at the University of Arizona, but this was his first taste of the hot corner at the Major League Level. There’s some questions regarding who will take the backup third base role on Opening Day, but if Refsnyder keeps making plays and saving runs, there’s no doubt he’ll earn the spot.
Starlin Castro built on his first game as a Yankee by sneaking a ground ball through the left side of the infield to drive in Refsnyder for the first score of the game.
After Tanaka’s exit, Anthony Swarzak took the mound and pitched two perfect innings that included two strikeouts. James Pazos relieved Swarzak, and allowed no runs on no hits but walked two in one inning of work. Yankee pitching was borderline flawless up until the bottom of the 6th when the Phillies started pouring it on.
Chad Green came on and surrendered five earned runs on three hits and two walks and Branden Pinder was called on to clean up the mess with two runners on. Unfortunately, Pinder gave up a three run home run off the bat of Andrew Knapp to put Phillidelphia up 6-1.
The Bronx Bombers answered in the top of the seventh after catcher Austin Romine doubled to center to drive in Aaron Judge to bring the Yankees within 4. Two batters later, following a Jorge Mateo walk, second baseman Tyler Wade drove in Romine on a single to make the score 6-3 Phillies.
In the top of the eighth, Romine continued his hot hitting with another RBI double, driving in Ben Gamel and Ronald Torreyes to pull the Yankees withing one. Vincente Campos and Tyler Webb pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth for the Yankees and had one strikeout each.
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The Yankees were unable to complete the comeback, however, and fell 6-5 after Jenmar Gomez slammed the door shut in the ninth, finishing off the bombers.
Romine, who is competing with rookie sensation Gary Sanchez for the backup catching duties, went 2 for 2 with 3 RBI’s in the loss.
With many folks pointing at how “meaningless” Spring Training is, it’s important to take the positives out and that’s exactly what manager Joe Girardi will do following Sunday’s loss.
The Yankees saw a great first step in Tanaka’s return to live ball, saw a fantastic play by Refsnyder that they hope he builds on, and got a display of Romine’s bat which was a plus.
New York’s next game will be Monday at 1:05 pm eastern time against the Houston Astros at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Michael Pineda will get the ball for the first time this spring.