For a while, it didn't look like yesterday's game was going to happen. It was raining hard, the scheduled start had been pushed back, and the forecast wasn't all that promising. It was supposed to be Masahiro Tanaka's second ST appearance and first official start in a Yankee uniform, cause for as much excitement as any ST game should cause, and both Mark Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano were also slated to make their first ST appearances. As luck would have it, the weather cooperated long enough to get the game in and not deprive us of another chance to dissect Tanaka's outing or the string of related "firsts" that happened yesterday.
The outing by Tanaka was another good one. He worked 3 innings on 41 pitches, allowed only 2 hits with no walks and 1 strikeout. One of the hits was a solo HR, giving Tanaka his first career run and homer allowed in MLB, but given the circumstances and the way he responded I don't think that should be the major takeaway. Tanaka isn't used to rain delays, and he said as much after the game. There aren't a lot of rain delays with all the domed stadiums in Japan, so he doesn't have a lot of experience adapting to a delay in his gameday routine. Tanaka himself said he didn't feel as sharp as he wanted to, most likely a byproduct of the delay, so it was good that he was able to adjust and still pitch effectively. Without the sharpness on his stuff to get swings and misses, he pounded the bottom of the strike zone to get 7 groundball outs and limit the opposing scoring to just the 1 run. It was a different kind of good outing from his first one and an encouraging sign that the transition to the MLB game won't be as problematic for him as it was for other Japanese pitchers.
The results weren't nearly as encouraging for Teix and Soriano in their season debuts. They went a combined 0-6 at the plate with 3 strikeouts, all by Soriano, and only got 1 ball out of the infield. For the first time facing live pitching in a real game though, it wasn't about results for Teix. The most important thing for him was to make it through the game without any problems in his wrist and that's exactly what happened. He said his swing didn't bother him, nor did making contact on different parts of the bat, and that's good enough for now. As for Soriano, the guy has had the flu since basically the minute he arrived at camp. He's over it now but not back to full strength physically, and he's behind in his BP reps. Give him a week or 2 to catch up and get his timing back and I'm sure he'll be fine.
The other notable first from yesterday's game was the end of Derek Jeter's early spring hitless streak. The Captain snuck a groundball single through the hole between short and third in his second at-bat and followed that up with a line drive double into the left-center field gap in the 5th inning. Not only did Jeter look better at the plate yesterday, he showed no ill effects of last year's leg problems running out the double hard. Like Teix, he continues to check off those little things on his comeback to-do list and he appears to be right on track for starting the regular season at full physical and game strength.
As part of the bigger picture, yesterday's game was the first indication that Spring Training is starting to enter its second phase. With the exception of a few, guys have all gotten into games now and the focus is shifting from getting back into the swing of things to getting ready for the start of the regular season. Just look at the starting lineup. Except for Mason Williams and Ramon Flores, the lineup was all expected starters and it would have included Carlos Beltran were it not for the wet field conditions. As former WWE announcer Jim Ross used to say, business is about to pick up at Spring Training over the next few weeks and yesterday's game was the first sign of that.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)