Yankees 4-2 win over Nationals shows a glimpse of potential Opening-Day roster

The New York Yankees players at a spring training game in Tampa on March 1, 2023.

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The New York Yankees Grapefruit League squad against the Nationals on Wednesday gave a subtle hint at what could be their roster on Opening Day. Manager Aaron Boone set up a lineup with DJ LeMahieu at the top. Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, and Harrison Bader came next in order for an exhibition game that his team won 4-2 at Steinbrenner Field.

Opening Day is still four weeks away and the Yankees manager has plenty of time to make a final decision. But he gave an indication about what he was planning to line up on March 30 against the Giants at Yankee Stadium.

Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader, and Stanton at Tampa spring training game.
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Along with the typical top four of LeMahieu, Judge, Rizzo, and Stanton, the Yankees lineup included Aaron Hicks in left field. Josh Donaldson batted fifth and played third base, while Harrison Bader batted sixth and played center field. Jose Trevino, who has already been named the team’s No. 1 catcher, was not in the lineup, with Kyle Higashioka replacing him. Higashioka, who was Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher for the bulk of last season, might do so again on Opening Day. IKF was at shortstop.

Carlos Narvaez, a 23-year-old catcher who has been in the Yankees’ system since 2016, hit a two-run walk-off home run to win Wednesday’s Grapefruit League game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, 4–2.

“Yeah, could be,” Boone told after the game. “Obviously Gleyber [Torres] would be in that mix. Shortstop’s still up for grabs, though, and left field. You never know. We’re [29] days away. But obviously, today, having a lot of guys that, if healthy, are going to be playing a lot of games.”

Last season, Boone came up with 146 different batting orders, which was only the 17th most in the majors. LeMahieu batted first 89 times, Judge batted second 112 times, Rizzo hit third 90 times, and Stanton batted fourth 77 times.

The big Yankees names

Boone was careful with his older players who were more likely to get hurt, like Stanton, Rizzo, and LeMahieu, and got them started a little later in spring training.

“There’s a slow play from my standpoint with a number of these guys,” the Yankees manager said on Monday. “Because we have normal spring training again and the on-ramp is bigger.”

Stanton hit two balls on the screws. Both of them went over 102.7 mph off the bat, but neither of them landed on the grass. He went 0-2 in his first game of the spring.

During an interview with the YES Network, the 2017 NL MVP said that he hopes to be back in the outfield in the next week. The 33-year-old was an outfielder in 38 games last season and that included 4 in left field. Stanton as an outfielder is likely to be the Yankees’ best way to score runs. But the team has been hesitant to do so because Stanton has been hurt a lot in the past. He has only played 130 or more games in two of the last five seasons.

LeMahieu went 1-2, and in the bottom of the third, he hit a single that bounced once off the left field wall. Rizzo also got on the board with a hit, which might not have been a hit last season because of a rule that is no longer allowed. He ended the day with a score of 1-2.

Even though the manager told it was “conceivable” that his record-holder captain could bat first when LeMahieu is off, it’s clear that the manager prefers LeMahieu to hit first.

“He’s so good hitting in front of Aaron because he’s not afraid to get to two strikes,” Boone said. “There were so many at-bats last year where he got in a 3-1 count where it’s like, the hitter in you, he’ll take a pitch, even if it means getting to 3-2, just knowing who was behind him. It’s like, ‘I’m going to do all I can to get on.’ Before he got injured, he was about .400 on base. That’s what you want out of the leadoff hitter, somebody that’s getting on.”

The questions

This spring, three Yankees players who are fighting for positions played in Wednesday’s game. While Hicks was put on the left, the shortstop battle saw Anthony Volpe and IKF taking the position.

In the bottom of the fourth, Hicks hit one through the right side. This was a reminder that the shift is no longer there to steal hits. If Wednesday’s lineup is any indication, the Yankees may be betting that the 33-year-old will have a much better season than last year, when he had a .642 OPS in 130 games. With the right side open, he will be able to hit better.

Kiner-Falefa finished 0-2 in the afternoon shortstop battle and is currently 1-6 this spring. Volpe entered the game in the fifth inning and made a number of excellent defensive plays at shortstop, although he went 0-2 at the bat.

Early on in spring training, neither Oswald Peraza nor anyone else seems to be the clear favorite to be the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop.

German stakes claim

After Frankie Montas hurt his shoulder on February 21, Domingo German started trying to become the Yankees‘ fifth starter. The 30-year-old pitcher went 2.1 frames, gave up 1 run on 1 hit, and struck out 3 batters.

“I’m not trying to do anything different,” German said after his performance on the YES Network. “I don’t want to do too much [or] too little. Just trying to follow my plan of getting ready for the season and just trying to establish myself as a favorite for [the fifth rotation] spot.”

German’s performance wasn’t as good as Clarke Schmidt’s spring training debut on Sunday when he struck out five of the six batters he faced. But the 30-year-old is likely to start out with a small edge over his competitor.

German has started 70 games for the Yankees since 2018, while Schmidt has only started five games since 2020. It looks like the fight to fill out the Yankees’ rotation will come down to the wire.

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