Boots on the ground here at Steinbrenner Field. If you’re looking for me, I’m the only guy - not on the field - wearing orange! pic.twitter.com/KVqO0CupV7— Mitchell Custer (@mitch_cust12) March 18, 2018
If you’ve never been, Steinbrenner Field is an interesting place. It’s not breathtaking, but because the oldest and most prestigious MLB franchise calls it home, it seems like more than just a spring training stadium. It’s a peculiar mix of faux Yankee Stadium feng shui, cheesy touristy-Florida accoutrements, and newly renovated amenities like outfield bars and loges. According to the greeter, the game was sold out of reserved seating, leaving only standing room only admission for purchase. I had purchased my “Pinstripe Pass” a week earlier, which got me SRO access and a free drink. After I purchased a hat bearing the logo of the Yankees’ newly rebranded High-A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons, I walked downstairs from the concourse, and found a chair in the outfield to man for the game.
Food review: just okay. I wasn’t feeling a New York slice, so I went with my bread-and-butter baseball food. The bun was a little cold/moist, and it seemed to be lacking love in general. Yankees are definitely going to want to work out the kinks there before the season starts.
Luckily for us few Marlins fans in the cheap seats, we had a familiar face in left field to keep us company. Anyone else recognize this guy?
It’s still surreal for me to not see him in orange and black. I’m not sure I’ll ever be over it. More to come on Giancarlo’s day later.
For today’s matchup, the Yankees threw out something close to what their Opening Day lineup may look like.
On the other hand, the Marlins brought their B-squad on the three-hour drive to Tampa.
.@CalebASmith12 gets the ball against his former team as the #Marlins hit the road.— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) March 18, 2018
: https://t.co/jUTgbN4KBU Gameday Audio, @radiomambi710
On the mound for the Marlins was Caleb Smith. In light of the recent demotions of Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia, there’s belief that Caleb Smith is in contention to win one of the final rotation spots. While a good start would have helped his case, it was apparent as soon as the first inning that the Yankees were going to make him work for it.
After Brett Gardner beat Scott Van Slyke to first base with the scariest head-first dive ever, Smith made his own head-long dive into the heart of the Yankees order. It’s weird really; you can look at the Yankees lineup and paper, and tell that it is obviously deep. But when you see, in real life, four-to-five hitters like Judge/Bird/Stanton/Sanchez/Gregorius come up one after the other, you just wonder “how is this pitcher to get through this one?”
Sure enough, after Smith forced a fly out from Aaron Judge, Greg Bird took the lefty deep to right field to open the scoring at 2-0. Smith would fare decently after that; although he walked Giancarlo, he forced a GIDP opportunity from Gary Sanchez. But Sanchez [allegedly] beat out the return throw, forcing the inning to continue. Then things unraveled; following a single from Didi Gregorius, newly acquired second baseman Neil Walker threaded the right-center gap, driving in two more.
Despite the long first, Caleb Smith really settled in during his last two innings; although he yielded a solo shot to The Kraken, he struck out Gardner, Judge, Bird, and Stanton. He really showed some game on the second go-around, a quality that should be appreciated greatly in Miami. Last year, the Marlins rotation had the lowest average innings per start. Although Smith may not be lights out, he may just be the kind of bend-don’t-break pitcher the rotation needs.
Luis Severino quieted the bats until the 4th inning, when Brian “The Matrix” Anderson, hit a ball into another dimension.
The shot was Anderson’s third this spring. It’s refreshing to see Anderson homer off of one of the league’s bona fide aces; people were worried about Anderson’s game power not translating in his debut last year. Clearly, Anderson is acclimating just fine, and is prepared to jump into the starting third base role come April.
Later in the inning, Scott Van Slyke hit a sinking liner to left, testing Stanton’s ability to make a tough play. The ball tailed just under the glove of a tumbling Stanton, allowing Van Slyke to make it safely to second. This was one of two hard plays that Stanton failed to make. Take this with a grain of salt because I’m generalizing based solely on today’s game, but it looks like Stanton is having a hard time adjusting to left field. Stanton was a pretty good defensive right fielder for the Marlins, with considerable range; in 2017, Stanton accrued a UZR of 6.7 runs, with his range alone being worth 4.3 runs.
Mr. Anderson!#Marlins' Brian Anderson rips his second run-scoring hit off #Yankees' Severino. @Marlins No. 9 prospect goes 2-for-3 with HR, 2B and 2 RBIs. No. 9 on @MLB's Top 10 3B list: https://t.co/esi6xlvJJS pic.twitter.com/q4u5fco3XX— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 18, 2018
But consider this; with Stanton playing right field, a lefty comes up and ropes a line drive down the line. Although it’s sinking and tailing away from him, Stanton’s glove hand is closer to the tail. In pursuit of the ball, his glove can be an arm-length in front of him, allowing him a better chance to make the play on a forehanded catch. Now reverse the field, and picture what happened in today’s game; a right handed hitter comes up with Stanton in left, and hits a tailing line drive down the line. Because Stanton’s glove hand is now opposite the foul line, his glove is either an arm-length behind or aligned with his running body. He has to squeeze his pecs together and reach across his body mid-sprint to catch the tail backanded. Today, he failed to do so twice. It’s not a problem specific to the Yankees; obviously, this is something that any right-handed left fielder has to deal with. But it is something Stanton will have to make an adjustment on.
Ok I’m done writing about Stanton. I’m sorry, old habits die hard.
The comeback was on in the 5th as the Marlins jumped on Luis Severino for two more runs. John Norwood entered the game as a pinch hitter and singled. Peter Mooney followed up with a single of his own, allowing Norwood - who was running on the pitch - to reach third. Lewis Brinson drove in Mooney with a sacrifice fly. Brian Anderson wasn’t done with Severino; he shot one of the aforementioned line drives past Stanton in left, and drove in Mooney from first. Chris O’Grady sent three-up-three-down in the bottom half of the inning. After five, the score was MIA 3 - NYY 5.
The Marlins implemented wholesale changes in the bottom of the sixth as Justin Nicolino, another contender for one of the remaining rotation spots, entered the game. Nicolino walked Stanton to lead off the inning. Sanchez followed with a laser that almost fooled Braxton Lee, but was corralled for the out. Nicolino then allowed a mammoth gapper from Didi Gregorius. After walking another batter, Nicolino freight trained a fastball to Brandon Drury, who roped it into the gap to score two. Score after 6: MIA 3 - NYY 7.
After a rousing rendition of “YMCA” by the grounds crew, yours truly, and the other standing room patrons of Steinbrenner Field, Yadiel Rivera led off the seventh with a double. Despite K’s from Tomas Telis and Riley Mahan, J.B. Shuck was able to clean up the run on a two-out single to center field. MIA 4 - NYY 7 after 6.5
The horror show for Nicolino continued into the bottom of the seventh. He allowed a single and a walk before Giancarlo sent an RBI base-hit into right field. That would be the last of the Yankees’ offensive onslaught.
In a real feel good moment, Joe Dunand - drafted last year out of North Carolina State - made the trip to the ole stomping grounds of his uncle, Alex Rodriguez. Against the well-traveled lefty Wade LeBlanc, Dunand stepped up sent a moonshot into the concourse of Steinbrenner Field. See if you can spot the resemblance:
The final score: Marlins 5 - Yankees 8.
People will say there’s no such thing as a feel-good loss, but there are positive takeaways from today’s game. As an almost guaranteed starter making one of the Grapefruit League’s most hated bus trips, Brian Anderson could have easily mailed it in today. He didn’t; instead, he went up against the Yankees’ opening day starter and had himself a game. Guys in the clubhouse may benefit to take notice of Anderson’s grit today, and seek to replicate it come April.
The relatively unknown Caleb Smith stared down the barrel of his former team’s lineup today and didn’t flinch. He got knocked around early, but he came back to strike out four in a row from “The New Murderer’s Row.”
Despite the fact that most of today’s roster will likely see the bulk of their time in the minors, said players did a lot of little things right. Yadiel Rivera taking two on Stanton, and then J.B. Shuck picking up Rivera with two outs was huge. (It’s worth mentioning that J.B. Shuck is raking this Spring as well, cultivating a 1.085 OPS in 30 at-bats. Keep an eye on him.) The same can be said for Lewis Brinson’s sacrifice fly. The Fish matched the Yankees in hits, and left three fewer runners on base. Relief pitching was flawless today, with 0 earned runs from Nick Wittgren, Chris O’Grady, and Severino Gonzalez.
Bottom line: the Marlins handled their business today. If they can keep a focus on executing on a play-by-play basis, these hard-fought losses may gradually turn into wins, and the Fish may surprise people in 2018.