What’s Up Front Counts

Tampa, Fla., March 21, 2022; Yankees 5, Philadelphia 2 — If, as many say, Spring Training games are a poor gauge of team performance, because many of the players are inexperienced minor leaguers not likely to ever make a major league squad, it can be posited that what happens early in games holds some validity. That is when the front-line players do take part. For instance, when Philly came to Tampa to play the Yankees Monday afternoon, the top of their lineup included Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, and Didi Gregorius, facing a Yankee squad peopled by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Joey Gallo, Josh Donaldson, and Aaron Hicks. On the mound, the Yanks had righthander Jameson Taillon facing Phillies righty Hans Crouse, a Texas second-round pick who started two games in the City of Brotherly Love last year.

Taillon pitched two frames throwing 29 pitches, but Crouse wasn’t as fortunate. He threw 29 pitches as well, but it just got him two outs into the first. Following a first-pitch double to right center by DJ LeMahieu and a one-out walk, Stanton delivered two runs with a laser down the left field line and Hicks drove him in with the third double of the inning. Much of what transpired in the rest of the game bears out the theory that this is more practice than professional-level play. The Phillies carved out their two runs in the seventh on a walk and error sandwiched between a leadoff double and a one-base hit, while the last New York tally crossed via two walks and back-to-back infield errors in the home sixth.

The Yankees benefitted, and excelled, to be sure, in their pitching. Taillon, who had a difficult injury history in Pittsburgh before the New Yorkers traded for him a year ago, had a rough first half in 2021 before achieving a higher level of pitching late, retired six of seven with a strike out and no walks. And following him, lefty “Nasty” Nestor Cortez, who was a pleasant 2021 surprise filling in for a rotation disrupted by injuries, struck out two while setting down six straight. Righthander Michael King made a name for himself as a two-way pitcher last year, and he also did well, surrendering just a walk and double over the fifth and the sixth. All three pitched superbly, and as mentioned earlier, against solid major league hitters.

This can’t be said for the Yankee offense, which scored one in the fourth following the three-run first-inning outburst. Joe Girardi used 10 pitchers against the pinstripers today, including veteran relievers Cam Bedrosian, Corey Knebel, Jake Newberry, and Andrew Bellatti. But they weren’t Joe’s best arms, so the home-team offense is still a work in progress, in a Spring session that will be shorter than any we have seen in decades.

It was another gorgeous day in Florida, on a not particularly great day in Yankee history. On this day in 1936, a very young Joe DiMaggio suffered an injury in an unattended diathermy machine that would cosr him almost two months of the coming season. And 50 years later, it was announced that Britt Burns, a righty starter acquired a few months earlier, would not pitch in New York due to a degenerative hip condition.

In 1969, in a very Mad Men-type world, an advertisement for Winston filter cigarettes featured the tag line “It’s What’s Up Front That Counts.” A song with the same title by a doo-wop group called The Counts became a mini-hit a few years later. And a book was published as well. Today’s game had 51 different players, many of them, admittedly, unlikely to ever make The Show. But if you’re looking for any significance as to how what transpired could have an effect in the coming season, you would be well advised to consider that,

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts