The outcome of Sunday’s game still hung in the balance when Clint Frazier’s adventures in fielding re-emerged. The Yankees trailed their rivals, the Boston Red Sox, by one run in the seventh inning. And given the way the Yankees’ offense has performed, a comeback was quite possible.
Frazier, though, has made some seemingly routine plays more difficult this season. While his hitting has been one of the reasons the first-place Yankees have withstood so many injuries, his defense remains a work in progress.
On a handful of occasions this season, Manager Aaron Boone has substituted in a more sure-handed outfielder, such as Cameron Maybin, for Frazier when the Yankees have a lead. Frazier is an athletic 24-year-old, so he possesses the tools to be better than he showed in Sunday’s 8-5 loss to the underperforming Red Sox, ruining the Yankees’ chance of a three-game sweep.
The Yankees (38-20) did not lose to the Red Sox (30-29) solely because of Frazier. Starting pitcher C. C. Sabathia returned from a brief stint on the 10-day injured list for his degenerative right knee and delivered a serviceable outing. He struck out eight and allowed three runs over six innings.
The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead largely because of solo home runs by J. D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts off Sabathia. Despite his struggles at the new Yankee Stadium, Red Sox starting pitcher David Price was a tad better than his counterpart: He surrendered two runs over six and a third innings, and he escaped a jam in the fourth inning with some odd Yankees base running.
But a combination of Frazier’s defense and Luis Cessa’s pitching (five runs allowed) allowed the Red Sox to push their slim lead into a comfortable margin in the later innings. It was enough to withstand a late Yankees rally.
Despite the loss, the Yankees are 4-1 against the Red Sox this season. Fourteen more regular-season games between the rivals remain, the next two coming on June 29 and 30 in London, the first regular-season major league games played in Europe.
In Sunday’s fateful seventh inning, Frazier let a single hit by Eduardo Nunez get by him in right field. The blunder allowed Michael Chavis to score from first base and Nunez to reach third.
A run-scoring single by Brock Holt with the Yankees’ infield in pushed the Red Sox’ lead to 5-2. Two batters later, Frazier’s escapades in right field returned.
Andrew Benintendi poked a ball into shallow right, and Frazier hesitated before racing toward it. He has struggled this season to determine when to dive for a ball and when to pull up to field it.
This time, Frazier dived and just missed the ball. He doubled down on the mishap: He scooted after the ball and fired home, still with a chance to nab Holt. Frazier has a strong arm, but this throw was wide of home plate and catcher Austin Romine darted over to stop it.
“Maybe pressing a little bit out there,” Boone said of Frazier, who declined to comment through a team spokesman after the game. “He’s working his tail off. He’s making strides out there, but there’s been some mistakes along the way, too. That’s part of continuing to develop a young player.”
The defensive lapses lingered with fans, some of whom booed Frazier when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. Fittingly, he singled. He is hitting .272 with 10 homers and 28 runs batted in this season.
In the eighth inning, Frazier overran a bloop into right field by Chavis, which resulted in a run-scoring triple.
“There’s going to be days where it seems like things aren’t going your way and the ball is always hit to you,” center fielder Aaron Hicks said. “And you learn over time to just slow the game down.”
A concussion sustained during a tumbling catch at the wall during spring training wiped out most of Frazier’s 2018 season. He entered this spring with the goal of improving his defense, and the ever-positive Boone commended Frazier’s progress.
Given Frazier’s injury history, it is understandable when he is more hesitant when attempting a running catch at the wall, as he was last weekend at Kansas City. Since then, he spent some time working with Reggie Willits, the Yankees’ outfield instructor, and his fellow outfielders on his defense and plays at the wall at Yankee Stadium.
Clearly, more work remains.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius is on track to make his season debut when the Yankees are in Cleveland this coming weekend, Aaron Boone said. When he had Tommy John surgery in October, Gregorius was expected to return this summer. His recovery has gone so well that he is expected back on the early side of that projection.