Sunday, July 9, 2023

Yankees Fire Hitting Coach After First Half Ends On Down Note

Christopher Morel and Clay Bellinger (bottom left) after they scored to tie the game for Chicago,  as Tommy Kahnle (41) reacts. Photo by Jason Schott.


The Yankees coughed up a three-run lead as they lost a heartbreaker to the Chicago Cubs, 7-4, on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium to finish up the first half of the regular season on a down note.

About an hour after the game, the Yankees made the decision to fire their hitting coach Dillon Lawson. He spent five years in the Yankees organization, and was made the hitting coach ahead of the 2022 season. A replacement has not been named, but the Assistant Hitting Coaches are Brad Wilkerson and Casey Dykes.

Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman said in a statement, "It has been well documented that I have been reluctant in the past to make changes to our coaching staff in the middle of a season. I am a big believer that successes and failures are collective efforts.

"However, I ultimately felt that a change was needed and that a new voice overseeing our hitting operations would give us the best chance to perform closer to our capabilities as we move forward into the second half of our season.

"I want to thank Dillon for all his efforts. He has a bright baseball mind that will continue to lead to a long and fruitful baseball career."

The Yankees head into the All-Star break with a record of 49-42, and this loss, coupled with the Toronto Blue Jays' 4-3 win in Detroit, drops them into fourth place in the American League East and one game back of the final Wild Card spot. The Yankees are eight games back of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays (58-35), who are followed by the Baltimore Orioles (54-35), Toronto (50-41), Yankees (49-42), and the Boston Red Sox (48-43).

“You know, it’s been a grind of a first half for us,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said on Sunday morning. “I love the grit of this group, though, like, as tough as it’s been and some of the adversity we’ve faced, reality is we’re in position to achieve our goals heading into the second half. It’s all right there for us. It’s on us to get it done, and we’re in position to do that, so, as you know, I think everyone would say, as much of a grind as it’s been, we’re there with an opportunity, and we’re looking forward to that.”

On what surprises there have been in the first half, Boone said, “Well, I think, surprise is some of the emergence of guys who’ve been real contributors, you know, whether it’s out of them kicking the door in, you know, I think of a Ian Hamilton, who just won his way on to the team to start, and has obviously played a big role for us out of what’s been a really good bullpen. To the guys that have come up and played a role and helped us win games, those are always, I guess, the surprises.”

The Yankees have been without their best player, Aaron Judge, since June 4, so the fact that they enter the break seven games over .500 is somewhat impressive. 

This seven-game homestand was a letdown for a team that looked like it was building momentum - having won three of their prior four series - as they split four with Baltimore before dropping two of three to the Cubs, who improved to 42-47.

Last Monday, the homestand began with fireworks, and this game began with them, in a sense, as Cubs Manager David Ross, was ejected in the bottom of the first inning after he was incensed that home plate umpire Alex MacKay called a pitch violation on Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.

That made Gleyber Torres' lead-off at-bat start with a 1-0 count, and he went on to single. Giancarlo Stanton was up next, and Ross was tossed when the count was 2-0 on him.

Stanton went on to groundout to shortstop, but Anthony Rizzo lined a double into the right field gap to bring in Torres and make it 1-0.

Domingo German, in his second start since he threw a perfect game in Oakland on June 28, looked like he could have been on his way to another early.

The right-hander struck out two in the first inning, and then he walked Cody Bellinger in the second before Christopher Morel bounced into a double play to end the frame. German then retired the next six Cubs, so he had a no-hitter and faced the minimum through four innings.

Domingo German firing one in to Clay Bellinger in the second inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

That ended in the fifth when Seiya Suzuki blasted one to left field that Billy McKinney leaped after, but came up short as it landed in the front row for a solo home run to tie the game at 1.

Hendricks had settled in by that point, but the Yankees broke through in the sixth, as Anthony Volpe had a two-run homer followed by a solo shot from Kyle Higashioka to put the Yankees up 4-1.

Anthony Volpe approaching the plate on his home run. Photo by Jason Schott.

This was the second time in the homestand they went back-to-back, as they did on Monday night against Baltimore as well. Volpe now has 13 home runs and 33 RBI on the season, while Higashioka has 5 homers and 22 RBI.

German was still on for the Yankees in the seventh, which he opened with a walk to Ian Happ, and even though he was at 74 pitches, they went to their bullpen.

First up was Ian Hamilton, and he got Suzuki to pop up to first base, and then Bellinger singled. Morel then bounced one to Torres at second, and he booted what could have been a double play ball to end the inning, so Chicago now had the bases loaded and one out.

Tommy Kahnle was next up, and he got Jared Young to bounce one to first base for the second out, which brought in Happ, and then Yan Gomes, pinch-hitter for Patrick Wisdom, lined one to center field, and Bellinger and Morel raced home to tie the game at 4. Tucker Barnhart grounded to shortstop to end the long inning.

All three runs in the seventh were unearned, and German's final line was: 6 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs (1 earned), 3 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Julian Merrywether, who came on for Chicago in the sixth, was still out there in the seventh, and he worked around walks to Stanton and Josh Donaldson by getting McKinney to hit a fly ball into the left field corner that Happ ran down for the final out.

Ron Marinaccio came on for the eighth, and he allowed a lead-off single to ex-Yankee Mike Tauchman, and he walked Nico Hoerner and Happ to load the bases before he was lifted for closer Clay Holmes.

Suzuki hit a sacrfice fly to right field to bring in Tauchman and put Chicago up, 5-4.

Then, with Bellinger up, Holmes lost control of one and it sailed to the backstop, allowing Hoerner to run in and make it 6-4.

By that point, it was pouring heavily and Holmes slipped off the mound, which resulted in a balk (kinda unfair, right?), and that moved Hoerner to third base. 

Bellinger then struck out looking for the second out and Morel bounced out to short to end the inning.

Chicago came out to do their warmups for the bottom of the eighth, and as David Bowie's "Let's Dance" played for the "80s in the 8th," the tarp came out, and there was a 23-minute delay.

Michael Fulmer, the former Met prospect who was traded for Yoenis Cespedes way back in 2015 and pitched for Detroit for years, came on for the Cubs in the eighth, and he worked around a two-out single by Higashioka, which gave Torres a chance at redemption, but he lined out to shortstop.

The Yankees then turned to left-hander Nick Ramirez for the ninth, and he got Young to bounce one to first base, in which Ramirez went to get the throw from Anthony Rizzo, and Young was called out.

Chicago challenged, so Young was safe, and that began his trip around the bases.

Young then stole second base, slipped into third base by a Higashioka throw on a sacrifice bunt by Miles Mastrobuoni, and came into score on a double by Barnhart into the right-field corner that made it 7-4.

After Ramirez got Tauchman to bounce out to second base, starter Clarke Schmidt, who last pitched Tuesday and will not pitch until after the All-Star break, entered the game, the seventh pitcher the Yankees would use. Schmidt struckout Hoerner and got Happ to bounce into a grounder to second.

Albert Alzolay entered for Chicago for the bottom of the ninth, and he needed just seven pitches to close it out, as Stanton bounced one to first base, and Rizzo and Harrison Bader each flew out to Bellinger in center field. 

It was Alzolay's second save in the series, and seventh of the season, while Merrywether earned the win to improve to 2-0. Marinaccio took the loss for the Yankees to fall to 4-4 with a 3.60 ERA.

The big question for Yankees Manager Aaron Boone after the game was why he pulled German after just 74 pitches, and he said, "I just felt like it was time and we were lined up there. Understandable to question the decision, but just felt like, especially Domingo coming off the perfect game and last time being a little bit fatigued, obviously threw the ball great, and then, you know, with Suzuki getting him the time before (referring to the home run), then a couple walks in the final two innings and one to lead off the inning, we were just lined up there to get through that and, then, with Tommy and Clay in the back, we were set up, but the reality was Hamilton came in, got a pop-up and a double play ball and then we're handing the ball to Tommy and Clay, but, you know, but, fair question, you know, Domingo obviously threw great, just felt like it was the time, to get him out of there on a real high note ending the half."

Boone then said of the Torres error, "Just, you know, made an error, kicked it, you know, so, happens, it's part of it, you know, so, you know, unfortunately, that kind of got us today."

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