Tampa, FL, March 7 — Chien-Ming Wang followed C.C. Sabathia’s strong Friday start with three solid innings Saturday afternoon as the Yanks work to get their starting five in order. Wang allowed a singleton home run among three hits, but he struck out two and looked like his old self while coaxing five ground ball outs in a 3-1 loss in a packed George M. Steinbrenner Field
Josh Anderson of the Braves tested the Yankee righty’s mobility following last year’s foot injury with a drag bunt toward first on the game’s first pitch, but Wang ran it down and nipped the speedy center fielder with a nifty snatch and toss of the ball with his glove in one motion. It got the Yankees rolling in a game where they pitched well and defended smoothly, even if their offense was lacking.
The pitching was good, but it did not match that of the Braves, whose six hurlers held the Yanks to six singles. Wang, Brett Tomko, Phil Coke, Kanekoe Texeira, Justin De la Rosa, and Michael Dunn allowed nine hits among them, one each inning until Coke allowed a Brandon Jones homer in the seventh and Texeira came on and gave up a single. But the Braves won because three of their hits left the yard.
The Yanks had chances. Johnny Damon reached on an error leading off the first, but he was nailed on a caught stealing on the second pitch to Melky Cabrera. Damon was out by so much that it’s possible Cabrera, who is looking a lot like his 2008 self at the plate, missed a hit and run sign, but I can’t be sure. Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens coasted through three frames, but Mark Teixeira singled off Phil Stockman to lead off the fourth. Hideki Matsui, in his second game as DH, had lined out in the second, but here he singled to right to set the Yanks up at first and third with nobody out. But Stockman struck out Xavier Nady swinging and Cody Ransom on a called strike, so had catcher P.J. Pilittere not stroked a two-out, rbi single, the Yanks would not have scored at all.
Tomko followed Wang’s three frames with three of his own, and veteran DH Greg Norton reached him for a singleton home run in the sixth. The Jones tater closed the scoring in the seventh, but a John Rodriguez leadoff single and Shelley Duncan’s one-out walk set the Yanks up in the home eighth. It was not to be though, as Jorge Posada and Todd Linden grounded out and the Yanks’ last chance was gone.
On the defensive side, Teixeira made a diving stab on Casey Kotchman’s base hit bid to the hole in the third. Kotchman replaced Teixeira as Atlanta’s first baseman when Mark was traded to Anaheim last year, and Casey had a good day with the stick. His homer off Wang gave the Braves the early lead, but he was robbed of yet another single by a Ramiro Pena diving stop in the fifth, so he easily could have had three hits. Also for the Yanks, John Rodriguez, who replaced Damon in the fourth inning (a little early for this stage of the Spring games), made two fine catches down the left field line, one in that inning and one in the eighth.
So the lack of offense we lamented in Thursday’s loss to Team Canada returned on Saturday following the seven-run outburst against Detroit Friday night. No one is eager to have the Yankee offense sputter during the 2009 season, but the silver lining is that with a solid pen and the great rotation they’ve put together, defense like they displayed today could win them a lot of close, low-scoring games. Two effective Matsui at bats were a sight for sore eyes as well.