BRADENTON, Fla. — The Yankees worked seven walks in their exhibition opener against the Tigers on Friday and drew five more against the Pirates on Saturday.
It’s exactly what Aaron Boone is looking for.
“I want us to be obsessed with controlling the strike zone,” Boone said before his team’s 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh. “That’s one of the bumper stickers, if you will. I know Marcus [Thames, the hitting coach] and P.J. [Pilittere, Thames’ assistant] are really driving that message home with our guys. We want to be great at that.”
In many ways, it would be a continuation of something the Yankees excelled at last season. The Yankees ranked first in the American League in walks (616) and third in on-base percentage (.339) and OPS (.785) in 2017.
“We feel like if we do that, with our [slugging] potential, when you’re controlling the strike zone, that’s a dangerous combination,” Boone said.
He said he wants his batters to concentrate on bearing down on full counts.
“That’s a count we want to win on both sides, and I was excited by what I saw [Friday] from a lot of the at-bats, even some lefty-on-lefty at-bats, where I thought guys were aggressive in the strike zone but showed the ability to lay off some borderline as well,” Boone said. “We want to be a team that gets really, really good and really laser-focused, especially on 3-2 counts. Kind of equate it to third-down conversions. Three-two, we want to win those on both sides.”
The Yankees, of course, also struck out plenty last season, ranking sixth in the AL in that category with 1,386.
“We want to be uber-aggressive and lethal in the strike zone,” Boone said. “Yeah, we’re going to strike out some, but if we’re really controlling the strike zone at a high level, it’s going to end up resulting in a lot of runs for us, just because of what we’re capable of from a power standpoint. But I just want us to, as a mantra, we walk in each day, these guys are just obsessed with controlling it. I want that to be their mindset.”
Brandon Drury made his Yankees debut, starting at third base and going 1-for-1. Drury was hit in the left hand by Clay Holmes’ fastball in his second at-bat, which came in the third inning, but stayed in the game. He received ice treatment after leaving the game in the fifth, and X-rays were not deemed necessary.
“It kind of scared me at first,” Drury said. “But when I got to first, I could tell I was good. Now it feels great. I’m 100 percent.”
He also made a diving stop to his right of Eric Woods’ ground smash in the second inning, but first baseman Tyler Austin failed to scoop the throw out of the dirt.
As part of an eventful afternoon for Clint Frazier, which included falling on his rear end on the warning track in left after making a leaping catch near the wall, he was picked off first by Holmes in the fourth after leading off with a line-drive single to left.
“I can’t get picked off by a righthanded pitcher,” Frazier said. “That’s not a good spot to be in.”
Billy McKinney, who had a burst-on-the-scene spring training a year ago, hit a three-run homer in the ninth to snap a 1-1 tie . . . Domingo German started and allowed two hits and two walks in two scoreless innings. German, who was happy with his secondary pitches, struck out two.