6 things to watch as 2021 Yankees spring training games begin

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Michael King gets set to fire pitch to home plate against Mets

The Yankees begin their Grapefruit League season Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. against the loaded Toronto Blue Jays. ‘Nuff said, right?

It’s great to have baseball back, especially with the added bonus of a limited number of fans in the stands at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Say goodbye to those awkward canned cheers that helped define the weird 2020 pandemic season.

It’s just the first game and there’s a long way to go before the standings matter, but there’s more reasons to watch than just immersing yourself in the green expanse of the outfield on your TV screen, or to hearing the crack of the bat again.

Here’s what to keep your eye on as the Yanks throw their first pitches of the year against a real, live opponent:

Pitching, pitching and more pitching

No one really knows what the effect of the shortened 2020 season will be on pitchers and their 2021 workloads, so it’s Topic No. 1 and will be all season.

A veteran such as Gerrit Cole figures to have the best chance to replicate past full-season workloads, but the Yankees will need plenty of arms to get through the year considering others in their rotation (Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery, etc.) haven’t pitched nearly as much recently.

Depth will be key and that’s why Michael King’s start on Sunday is interesting. King, a promising righty who had a 7.76 ERA in nine games last year, is one of a group of pitchers the Yanks will look to for innings this year, provided he proves himself. As other potential starters, such as Deivi Garcia, get their turn, the Yankees will have more of an idea who can fit where. Five other pitchers working Sunday could factor in relief depth: Asher Wojciechowski, Lucas Luetge, Kyle Barraclough, Nick Goody and Adam Warren.

Gary at a glance

Gary Sánchez, as usual, is one of the flashpoints of Yankee camp. Aaron Boone said Sánchez will DH Sunday and then catch Monday when Cole and Taillon are scheduled to pitch back-to-back. Sanchez, coming off a difficult 2020, is looking to re-establish himself as star material. Sure would help if he could build a bond with Cole, the unquestioned rotation ace.

Torres time?

Beyond Sánchez, Gleyber Torres is probably the Yankee position player who’s inspired the most handwringing after a less-than-ideal 2020. But he looks fit — that was an issue last year — and seems determined to rewrite his narrative with a big year at the plate and at shortstop.

“He looks really good,” Boone said. “I like his defensive work. I like the physical assessment he went through, the tests, physicals, strength and conditioning. …Time will tell on how guys are, but he came in in a real good physical place and a real good frame of mind.”

Finding a fit

There aren’t a lot of jobs available in Yankee Land. It’s mostly an end-of-the-roster gig or simply put-yourself-in-position-to-be-called-up-later. So where does that leave Miguel Andújar, a talented hitter without a real position?

Gio Urshela is the third baseman and Andújar’s amazing 2018 seems like ages ago. He’ll get his chances, Boone said.

“He’s going to get a lot of opportunity to play here early and hopefully get some consistent reps and build momentum,” Boone said. “I think we all understand what he’s capable of.” Where that lands him is unclear, however.

Health assessment

This will be a daily watch at Yankee camp. In recent years, the club has had trouble keeping some stars healthy, including Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Boone said he’d wait a few days to use Stanton, though the manager said it wasn’t for a particular concern. But it’s vital for the Yankees to get complete seasons from the two sluggers, so they have to stay fit while accomplishing their spring work.

Nuts and bolts

Sunday’s game is slated for seven innings and Boone said the first “three or four” exhibition games will be seven innings…No team made more errors in 2020 than the Yankees. Keep an eye on their defense during spring…Can Jay Bruce hit his way into a roster spot during camp? He told reporters he has a March 25 opt-out in his contract, though he hopes not to use it…Sunday’s game will be televised on the YES Network and also broadcast on WFAN.

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