TAMPA, Fla. — A couple of guys came over from big league camp.
And some of them could make a major impact on the immediate future of the the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Hazleton Area’s hometown hero Russ Canzler launched a home run and drove in two runs Saturday, Austin Romine caught six strong innings of work by starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and Brian Gordon looked great closing out a 7-2 RailRiders victory over a group of Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers.
Of course, all those guys — save for Gordon, who was sent to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the week — are still very much in the running to open the season with the New York Yankees entering the final stretch of spring training.
And Kuroda is locked into the No. 3 spot in Yankees starting rotation after giving them a combined 27 wins, 317 strikeouts and 421 innings over the past two seasons.
But if things break right for the RailRiders, Saturday’s game may have shown Scranton/Wilkes-Barre what’s in store for this summer.
“It’s going. Today was the first time I got more than one at-bat in a game,” said Romine, locked in battle with John Ryan Murphy for New York’s No. 3 catching job behind Brian McCann and Francisco Cervelli. “I mean, every player’s a competitor. Whether it’s playing here (in Triple-A) or with them (in New York), I’ll do whatever they decide to do.”
The jury’s still out on Canzler, a former International League most valuable player who has shown both production and pop at the Triple-A level for the past three seasons. Something popped in his back last week, and he just rejoined the Yankees on Friday after missing nearly a whole week of spring action.
To help make up for it, Canzler batted five times for the RailRiders — both he and Romine came to the plate once each inning — and didn’t look like the injury held him back at all.
Canzler uncorked a long sacrifice fly to score Addison Maruszak in the third inning, then walloped one over the wall for a solo homer in his final at-bat of the game in the fifth.
He also got just under a deep flyout to center field in his first trip to the plate, lined out to shortstop and drew a walk on the day.
But he’s hitting just .158 for the Yankees in spring training, with no home runs. So the next few days could be important for Canzler when it comes to New York making a decision whether to keep him in a reserve role with the big club or send him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he would certainly hit somewhere in the middle of the RailRiders lineup.
Kuroda is pretty much assured of spot in New York’s starting rotation, but after pitching just 8 1/3 innings this spring, he needed to get some work in. So the stalwart from Japan wound up working six innings for the RailRiders, striking out eight Pirates farmhands without allowing a walk.
He did hit a batter and gave up two runs on a single by Chris McGuiness in the fourth inning. Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco — added to the team’s 40-man roster in the offseason — tagged Kuroda for a single and a double, two of the five hits the Yankees’ crafty righthander surrendered.
“He looked good,” Romine said of his batterymate. “Coming down here is always hard, he’s used to working in a big league game. He had some struggles early, but I thought he got better as he went along. He’s a big league pitcher. He’s going to figure out a way to get guys out.”
Kuroda finished by retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced, recording his final three strikeouts over the fifth and sixth innings.
Then Gorden finished up in dominating fashion.
He fanned seven over three innings of two-hit, shutout ball before throwing an extra inning’s worth of pitches in a bullpen session.
“The number was 60 today, 60 pitches,” said Gordon, who worked four innings over four games in Yankees spring training before being sent to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s camp at the beginning of the week. “Kuroda came out and pitched really well — he went the distance —for him. I only needed one more inning (of work). I’m definitely pleased with the way it went. In camp with the Yankees this spring, I was just kind of limited with innings.
“The main thing today was, get the pitch count up a little bit,” Gordon continued. “It was very nice to be able to get three innings in.”