NEW YORK – Opening Day is five days away and manager Aaron Boone has his hands full.
Nope, not because the Yankees need to fill starting spots due to injuries. That may have been an issue that plagued this team a year ago, but save for a trio of key contributors working their way back from COVID-19, this entire roster is ready and available.
Boone has five days to narrow down this talented roster to 30 ballplayers and considering the sheer unadulterated depth that was on full display Saturday evening at Citi Field, those decisions won't be easy.
In the Yankees' first exhibition game of Summer Camp, New York stormed in front early and distanced from their crosstown rivals in the later innings, taking down the Mets in Flushing, 9-3.
Sure, Giancarlo Stanton doubled and scored twice while the law firm of Zack Britton, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino shut the door in relief, but those vying for playing time – even in some cases a roster spot – were the ones that carried the Bombers to victory.
"I’m not surprised. We have really good players when we’re all healthy," Boone said. "We saw last year, guys time and time again step up when they get opportunities and most all those guys are healthy now. Of course we have difficult decisions and playing time is going to be coveted."
It all started with leadoff hitter Mike Tauchman, who had three hits, scored two runs and drove in another. The outfielder got the start in center field in the exhibition contest, the spot Aaron Hicks will in all likelihood get the nod come the Yankees' opener on Thursday.
"I feel [Tauchman] has really in the last four or five days gotten off a lot of good swings, he’s really controlling the strike zone," Boone said. "Looks a lot similar to when he really got rolling for us last year and was such an impact player for us."
The sweet-swinging lefty started the game with a ringing double to right center, coming around to score moments later on a single from Gleyber Torres off Robinson Cano's glove. On Friday night, in New York's final intrasquad, Tauchman singled off ace Gerrit Cole as well.
Clint Frazier started in right field and made his presence felt in the fourth inning, launching a two-run home run into the second deck to extend the Yankees' lead. Same goes for Frazier as Tauchman – an outfielder looking to work his way into the starting lineup that's heating up just days before the season is set to begin.
"He’s been really playing well here these last few days," Boone said on Frazier. "Feel like when he first got here, he was a little out of whack and then the last week the quality of his at-bats have really ticked up. A lot of deep counts, same again tonight, and obviously really clipped one."
Finally, in the midst of a five-run ninth inning, Thairo Estrada blasted a base hit up the middle for an RBI. Estrada, typically known for his versatility on defense, led all of New York's position players with three home runs in intrasquad play at Yankees' camp.
"In Thairo’s case, he’s probably been the MVP of Summer Camp so far," Boone said.
The depth extended to the mound as well.
Mike King tossed four innings of one-run ball for the Bombers, striking out three.
The right-hander has impressed at camp thus far, saying he was happy with his overall performance. Now, he'll have to wait and see if he's awarded with a roster spot among a loaded pitching staff later this week.
"Really good for him to go out there and set a really good tone for us," Boone said. "He’s on the attack, using all his pitches and really was in control of the game. We wanted to get him through four innings, he got in a little trouble there but finished really strong. Really pleased with where he’s at right now."
Saturday featured yet another strong defensive showing from now-utilityman Miguel Andújar in the outfield. Even 40-year-old backstop Erik Kratz was able to stand out, driving in two runs in his one at-bat with single in the ninth inning.
Boone and the Yankees' coaching staff now have less than one week to finalize roster cuts and promotions that will undoubtedly impact the team's performance when the regular season begins. In a 60-game shortened campaign, there's no room for slumps and no time to waste.
How the skipper will make those decisions remains to be seen. As New York looks forward to two more exhibition games over the next two days and a trip down to the nation's capital, Boone is confident in the group that he has – especially those "extra players."
"It’s really good to see these guys as that clock ticks toward Thursday really starting to hone in."
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