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The Yankees and Rays have both gotten off to uncharacteristically slow starts this season, but one thing hasn’t changed: There is still bad blood between the two AL East rivals.
It simmered again over the weekend at Tampa Bay, when the Rays were perturbed that Yankees pitchers hit them four times — including one that hit Joey Wendle in the helmet. And that came after Aroldis Chapman nearly decapitated Mike Brosseau last Sept. 1.
“Tensions are high,’’ Aaron Judge said of the mindset heading into the series that begins Friday in The Bronx. “We’ve kind of gone back and forth with the Rays. We get hit, we get brushed back; they get hit, they get brushed back. It’s back and forth. The most important thing is to focus on the game and let our play do the talking. That’s the best outcome for both sides.’’
But there’s been plenty of talking, from Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash saying after the last series that the situation with Chapman was “grossly mishandled” by MLB last season, to Kevin Kiermaier adding, “We could have very easily done something about it and stood up for our guys, but we’re trying to work past all this. We just want to play. … It’s very frustrating. We’ll see where it goes from here. I don’t think it’s a very good look on their part.”
Aaron Boone said he understood why the Rays were upset but has insisted there was no intent.
“We’ve been on the receiving end of that, and I know we hit a few guys last series,’’ Boone said. “I get their frustration with that, but that’s not for us to get caught up into right now. We’ve got to go out and play good baseball. We’ve got another good team coming to town to kick off a homestand, and it’s important we don’t get caught up in that. We need to put our best foot forward and play good baseball, and that’ll be our focus starting Friday.”
Pitching coach Matt Blake called it a “delicate balance” of being aware of the recent history, especially since Jordan Montgomery nearly got tossed after hitting a pair of batters over the weekend — and not letting it impact the way you pitch.
“We want to pitch inside,’’ Blake said. “A big part of our plan is moving the ball to both sides. We’re aware of the natural tensions between the two teams, so any time you hit a guy there’s gonna be the perceived ‘Is it intentional, is it not intentional?’ It’s something we have to wrestle with.”
Blake added the fact they’ve hit Rays’ hitters is “not anything by design.”
The Yankees didn’t name a starter for Friday’s game, but Blake laid out several options prior to Wednesday’s loss to the Blue Jays, including Michael King — who tossed six shutout innings in relief in his only appearance this season — as well as Deivi Garcia or a bullpen game.
But Garcia started a simulated game at the alternate site in Scranton on Wednesday, and the lack of length provided by most of the rotation so far this year has meant the pen has been worked a lot already.
Blake said Garcia had been focusing on fastball execution, as well as his slider at the alternate site.
The Yankees also wanted Garcia to adjust his “attack plan to righties. He struggled a little there in spring training, putting guys away.”
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