Hitting cleanup for the first time had no impact on Gleyber Torres. Facing Chris Sale for the first time did.
The AL Rookie of the Year front-runner looked as lost as ever in Saturday’s 11-0 loss to the Red Sox, tying a career-high with three strikeouts, while becoming the youngest Yankee (21 years, 199 days) since Mickey Mantle (1953) to bat fourth. Torres, who picked up a ninth-inning single off reliever Hector Velazquez to finish 1-for-4, became the third-youngest Yankee to ever hit cleanup, following Mantle (21 years, 197 days) and Lou Gehrig (20 years, 100 days).
Torres earned the honor by hitting .345 against lefties this season, but the second baseman was overmatched against the Boston ace.
“Off the best pitcher in baseball, getting a strikeout is normal,” Torres said. “It’s difficult. He threw pretty well. I just tried to be focused. It was the first time I saw him.”
“I think it’s just how it sets up with another lefty out of the lineup,” the manager said, referring to first baseman Greg Bird’s night off. “Especially against lefties, I like to space out my lefties as much as I can. … It made sense to have the righty behind Stanton there.”Torres has spent most of the season hitting ninth — already setting a Yankees single-season record with 12 home runs from the bottom spot in the order — but has also hit fifth on nine occasions.
Before the game, Aaron Boone downplayed the significance of the move to cleanup.
In his first cleanup appearance, Torres had one of the few opportunities to do damage, stepping to the plate with two on and one out in the first inning. Torres quickly went down on three pitches, swinging — and missing — on the final two.
He then struck out on five pitches in his second at-bat.
In his seventh-inning encounter with Sale, Torres fouled off two pitches, but went down swinging against a 100 mph fastball.
Torres, who has just one other three-strikeout game since debuting on April 22, had struck out an average of .42 times per game in his previous 57 starts. The second baseman had a total of three strikeouts in his previous six games, and five times over his previous 10 games.
“I think it’s the first guy I saw with that move,” Torres said. “It’s a little bit difficult, a little bit different. … I look forward to another [opportunity] and we’ll see what happens.”