Yankees’ hot start fueled by timely hitting, strong situational baseball

PHOENIX — Not everyone can be as hot as Juan Soto, Anthony Volpe or Oswaldo Cabrera to start the season.

And while those three Yankees had a big hand in the team starting 5-0, it has also gotten important contributions from the rest of its lineup in the less sexy categories of moving runners over with productive outs, drawing walks and driving up the opposing starter’s pitch count.

The Yankees’ offense is quickly forming an identity of being a headache to face — and that’s even the case with the likes of Aaron Judge, Alex Verdugo and Giancarlo Stanton still finding their rhythm in the early going.

Austin Wells hits a sacrifice fly in the third inning of the Yankees' win on Monday.
Austin Wells hits a sacrifice fly in the third inning of the Yankees’ 5-2 win over
the Diamondbacks on Monday. Getty Images

They have done so without always needing the long ball to be an integral part of scoring runs.

DJ LeMahieu said in spring training that situational hitting was “going to be held to a higher standard” under new hitting coach James Rowson and the early returns seem to back that up.

Austin Wells was a prime example in Monday’s 5-2 win over the Diamondbacks.

The box score shows he finished the night 0-for-3, but he still found a way to make an impact.

In his first at-bat, with Volpe on second base and no outs, Wells hit a deep fly out that allowed the shortstop to tag up and reach third.

With the extra 90 feet, Volpe came in to score one batter later on Cabrera’s single.

Anthony Volpe sprints home to score a run during the third inning of the Yankees' win over the Diamondbacks on Monday.
Anthony Volpe sprints home to score a run during the third inning of the Yankees’ win over the Diamondbacks. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Then in the Yankees’ three-run third inning, after walks by Anthony Rizzo and Verdugo (on 10 pitches) and a single by Volpe, Wells hit a sacrifice fly that scored both Verdugo and Volpe (thanks to a pair of errors on the play).

“I think that was one of the bigger focuses this spring and going into the season was we wanted to just continue to pass the baton and move guys [over] and get the guys like Judge and Soto and Rizzo and all those guys at the top, back up again — and with a worn-out starting pitcher,” Wells said. “I feel like our job at the bottom is to continue to grind out [at-bats], just like they are at the beginning.

“Just getting those extra 90 feet, it’s the difference in the game most of the time and it has been in the first five games that we played. We’re going to try to continue to do that.”

Wells has put together quality at-bats while starting three of the Yankees’ first six games.

He laid down a key bunt in the second game against the Astros that helped fuel a four-run inning that broke the game open.

The catcher also drew three walks, two of which turned an inning into a rally.

There were other examples, too, elsewhere in the lineup through the first five games.

On Sunday, Stanton picked up 90 feet from second to third on Verdugo’s fly out to center, putting him in position to score on Jose Trevino’s single a batter later.

And of course there was Verdugo on Opening Day, coming to the plate in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game against Ryan Pressly.

Instead of trying to hit a grand slam, he lofted a fly ball deep enough to left field to score Judge on the sacrifice fly.

“It’s a classic look of being situational there, less is more, and, ‘Man, I know I need to hit the ball, elevate it a little bit in the big part of the field to do this job,’ ” manager Aaron Boone said. “Usually when you’re doing that, you’re in a better position now to handle a mistake that shows up that you can pop or something. I thought it was a great at-bat, great situational awareness. A winning play.”