WASHINGTON — When Aroldis Chapman landed on the COVID-19 injured list, it was fair to wonder what losing a dominant closer would mean for a bullpen many considered the best in baseball.
Sunday at a scalding Nationals Park, the Yankees got their first test of life without Chapman in their 3-2 win and didn’t blink.
Adam Ottavino and Chad Green combined for three scoreless relief innings and Tommy Kahnle entered in the eighth with a one-run lead.
After Gleyber Torres’ throwing error on Trea Turner’s one-out ground ball and Adam Eaton’s opposite-field double to left, Kahnle sandwiched two strikeouts around an intentional walk to the lefty swinging Eric Thames to take Torres off the hook.
Zack Britton, Aaron Boone’s choice to fill in for Chapman, worked a high-anxiety ninth to save a win that sent the Yankees to Philadelphia with a 2-1 record despite not hitting much in the final two games here.
Luke Voit and Torres both homered in the seventh to get the Yankees out of a 2-0 deficit and Torres’ two-out RBI single in the eighth was the game winner.
Britton was victimized by faulty defense in the ninth when Torres lost his footing fielding Asdrubal Cabrera’s grounder toward second and Gary Sanchez was charged with a passed ball that moved Cabrera to second with no outs.
Sanchez atoned for the passed ball with a strong throw to third that caught pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio attempting to swipe third when Bonifacio overslid the bag on a 3-2 pitch to Victor Robles that was out of the strike zone.
With a runner on first and one out instead of runners on first and second and no outs, Britton retired Yan Gomes on a fly to center and ended it by getting Michael Taylor on a ground ball to Torres.
Three games into an abbreviated season the Yankees are looking at a problem they weren’t expected to encounter.
With Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez healthy and Torres and DJ LeMahieu at the top of the lineup, the Yankees were expected to bludgeon pitchers.
Despite Stanton’s monstrous home runs in the first two games the Yankees’ lineup started to wilt in the second game of the season against five pitchers who filled in for Stephen Strasburg on Saturday night.
Sunday, it was left-hander Patrick Corbin who dominated the Yankees for 6 ¹/₃ innings in which he allowed a run and two hits. One of those hits was Torres’ homer in the seventh. It was Corbin’s final batter.
The Yankees have scored nine runs in three games but because of Gerrit Cole on Opening Day and the bullpen Sunday, they are 2-1 with 57 games left in the season.
After Torres’ homer Nationals manager Dave Martinez replaced Corbin, whose pitch count was 75, with right-hander Will Harris to face Stanton. Harris got Stanton to swing through a breaking ball in the dirt for a strikeout. It was the third whiff of the game for Stanton.
Voit picked up Stanton by hammering a 2-0 pitch over the left-field wall to tie the score, 2-2.
When lefty reliever Sean Doolittle surfaced from the Nationals’ bullpen, Aaron Boone went to his bench. Switch-hitter Aaron Hicks batted for Kyle Higashioka and drew a walk to start the eighth. Sanchez hit for Mike Tauchman and looked at an 0-2 pitch for the first out in front of LeMahieu’s single to right.
With runners on first and second Judge, the first Yankee to bat ith a runner in scoring position, lined out to left. Doolittle slipped behind Torres, 2-1, and watched him deliver an RBI single to left-center that easily scored Hicks from second.
David Hale had replaced Jonathan Loaisiga to start the fourth and was greeted with a double by Castro. Howie Kendrick’s ground ball to the right side moved Castro to third and he scored on Eric Thames’ single to right. Hale killed the rally by getting Cabrera to bang into a 4-6-3 double play.
Prior to the game Boone talked about Loaisiga being a good fit to open the game.
“We feel he is a really good option, especially the first time through the order,’’ Boone said.
The right-hander navigated the first nine Nationals batters well, but the second time Turner saw Loaisiga he homered to left in the third on a 2-2 pitch that was clocked at 96 mph. When Loaisiga fed Adam Eaton a ground out his day was done. In three innings, Loaisiga gave up a run, two hits, struck out three and walked one.
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