On Saturday night, the Yankees saw a glimmer of light in the darkness.
Two batters near the bottom of the order and on the brink of elimination delivered in the biggest at-bats of the season.
The Yankees won 4-1 at Camden Yards, setting up a rubber game for Sunday afternoon. No. 7 hitter Aaron Hicks, who was hoping for playing time, and No. 9 hitter Anthony Volpe, who was looking for a way out of a rut, both found what they were looking for and helped push the Yankees to victory.
Both Volpe and Hicks, who entered the game a combined 0-for-28 (with both of Volpe’s hits coming in the first game), showed signs of breaking out of their respective slumps.
Rookie starter Jhony Brito went five great innings, allowing only one run, thanks in large part to strong relief work from Michael King and timely hitting from Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a monster solo home run in the fifth inning to help pad the advantage.
Hicks, who was making only his third start of the year, looked doomed to remain a depth player after fellow corner outfielder Willie Calhoun was called up earlier in the day.
Hicks, who is 33 years old, has been vocal about his disappointment with his inability to secure a position.
He now only plays occasionally, usually when the other team is a lefty.
Manager Aaron Boone speculated that even though his player was not necessarily happy about the situation,” he would still act professionally. Truth be told, he’s prepared meticulously and laboriously.
The Yankees beat the Orioles on April 8 behind the pitching of Jhony Brito.
With another strong outing, Jhony Brito is arguing to be a regular starter for the Yankees.
In the fourth inning, with the Yankees trailing by one run, Hicks came up to the plate against lefty Cole Irvin to the sound of booing from the crowd that was not made up of Orioles fans.
Hicks got a fastball over the middle of the plate, grounded it up the middle for his first hit and RBI of the season, and drove in Anthony Rizzo to make it a tie game with two outs.
After going 1-for-4, Hicks remarked, “I felt good,” adding that the biggest problem he faces right now is finding his timing. The ability to watch a pitcher’s arm movement and anticipate high-velocity pitches is enough. That’s by far the most challenging aspect of the whole thing.
The game was deadlocked in the fifth inning when Volpe, mired in a 1-for-15 slump that included seven strikeouts, hit his first major league extra-base hit, a triple off the right-field wall.
Volpe scored his third run of his career, and the Yankees took the lead when DJ LeMahieu smashed a double down the left-field line on the very next pitch.
Since Boone named the 21-year-old Volpe the Yankees’ shortstop, the young player’s every move has been scrutinized.
Volpe’s glove work has been strong, if not remarkable, through the first eight games, but his bat had slowed until his monster triple on Saturday.
Volpe wore the player-of-the-game belt with pride and gave his teammates credit for it.
Volpe went 1-for-4 and had another solid at-bat, a 10-pitch struggle that ended in a flyout in the ninth. “I was going through it and struggling, and they were there for me every step of the way,” he said. To be acknowledged by them is more rewarding than acknowledgment from any other source.
King threw two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and striking out three, on a day that turned out to be a second chance.
King had a rough start to the 2023 season after missing all of 2022 with an elbow fracture. His velocity measurements were also down from his career highs from the previous year.
King, though, claimed to have “gone down a rabbit hole” and found out that his speed had dropped in April of the previous year, too, before climbing back up.
According to King, “I think it’s also just April, coming off an injury,” with the chilly weather maybe playing a role. Maintain that speed, and with any luck, it will start climbing.
The scoreless eighth inning was thrown by Wandy Peralta, while the scoreless ninth by Clay Holmes earned him his second save of the year.
Brito’s efforts were not in vain thanks to the solid performance of the bullpen.
Early on Saturday, the Yankees summoned pitcher Rafael Brito from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because of the avalanche of injuries to Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas.
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“By no means was it flawless. He was a little bit down in the count,” Boone said of the pitcher. However, he never gives up or becomes rattled. It’s an admirable quality in a person.
That trio of Brito, Hicks, and Volpe led the Yankees to their fifth win of the season, which would have been unthinkable a month or even a few days ago.