Yankees ready to get season started vs. Blue Jays

Houston Astros fans flash strikeout cards as New York Yankees' Aaron Judge strikes out to end the eighth inning against Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on October 21 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

By Larry Millson, The Sports Xchange –UPI

The New York Yankees won the battle of the offseason hype and Thursday afternoon they will begin to find out if it translates into success on the field.

The Yankees will play the Toronto Blue Jays, who had a rather quiet offseason, on Thursday afternoon at the Rogers Centre on Opening Day.

The Yankees added slugger Giancarlo Stanton to an already potent lineup in a trade with the Miami Marlins, acquired third baseman Brandon Drury in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and signed free-agent infielder Neil Walker.

They also have a first-year manager in Aaron Boone, who had been an ESPN commentator.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said one of the things he fears about the Yankees is their bullpen.

“You had to like the Yankees before they got Stanton because of their bullpen,” Gibbons said. “You better do something early or it’s going to be a long night.”

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, made more low-profile additions, including outfielder Randal Grichuk and infielder Aledmys Diaz in separate trades with the St. Louis Cardinals, and infielder Yangervis Solarte from the San Diego Padres in another trade. Among free-agent additions, Toronto signed left-handed starter Jaime Garcia and outfielder Curtis Granderson.

The Blue Jays’ starting rotation, beset last season by injuries, could be among the best this season. Their problem will be manufacturing offense.

“If we score runs, we’ll be OK,” Gibbons said.

Right-hander Luis Severino will be the Yankees’ Opening Day starter for the first time in his career and he will face Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ.

“We feel like it’s his time for it (the Opening Day start),” Boone said. “With what he was able to do last year, we feel like he’s in a really good place now. We just felt like now is the time for him to take on that role and we think he’s ready for it. I’m looking forward to seeing him grow in his role as one of the aces of this staff.”

Severino was 14-6 last season with a 2.98 ERA, which ranked third in the AL. Severino has never defeated Toronto, going 0-3 with a 5.52 ERA in seven games, including six starts. He was 0-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two starts against the Blue Jays in 2017.

Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak has two home runs and five RBIs in 12 career at-bats against Severino. Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar also have homered against Severino in their careers.

Toronto’s Opening Day starter was expected to be Marcus Stroman, but the right-hander will start the finale of the four-game series Sunday after a sore shoulder delayed his beginning to spring training. The nod then went to Happ, a 20-game winner in 2016.

Happ won 20 games in 2016 and is coming off a season in which he posted a respectable 3.53 ERA. This also will be his first Opening Day start.

“I think it’s just kicking off the season,” Happ said. “We could have gone with anyone and been super comfortable with that decision, but at the same time, it feels good to have a chance to do that. So, I’m looking forward to it.”

Brett Gardner will lead off for New York against Happ, even though he bats left. He is 9-for-30 (.300) with one home run in his career against Happ.

Happ, who was limited to 25 starts last season because of injury, was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two starts in 2017 against the Yankees. He is 8-2 with a 3.51 ERA in 16 career starts against New York.

Happ was 10-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017 after going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 32 starts in 2016.

Boone, who played for the Yankees during a 12-year major league career, said he liked where his team is going into the season.

“I feel like, for the most part, the guys are in a really good place and ready to go as we tee it up tomorrow,” Boone said. “Today usually would be an anxious day for me as a player, but here I feel pretty relaxed. I’m sure I’ll toss and turn a little bit tonight and (Thursday) I’ll be a little bit anxious, just making sure all of the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted and all that. But I feel like we’re prepared. I feel like we had a good spring.”