Almonte has big night in Yankees' win

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Zolio Almonte never really thought about how his first major league start would unfold, though he felt it might feature a few hits.

It actually featured three hits, including a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, as the New York Yankees evened their four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at a game apiece with a 6-2 victory at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.

"I really didn't think about it too much," Almonte said through a translator. "Just whatever it was, just have a lot of hits that night."

Almonte got his first hit out of the way with a ninth-inning pinch hit single Thursday, then singled in his first two at-bats Friday. His second hit loaded the bases in the fourth when the Yankees took the lead for good. But it was the home run into the Yankee bullpen beyond the right-center field fence on a 0-1 sinker from Tampa Bay starter Roberto Hernandez (4-8) that left the biggest impression.

"You don't ever think a kid is going to run out there and get three hits," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "He has a good swing. He's been a prospect and he's been on our radar for a while, and I felt he probably pressed a little bit in spring training, but he went down, he's been hot in Triple-A and he had a great day today."

"He has been good," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "The ball that he hit was down. I don't know if it was down middle or down and in, but he got the bat head on it. He definitely has some energy about him and he's played well against us."

The home run made it 5-2, and it also earned Almonte a curtain call a day after he was promoted from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After hitting .208 during spring training, Almonte batted .297 overall, including .354 over his last 16 games, while playing all three outfield positions in the minors.

"It's nice to see guys build up confidence in spring training so when they get here, they're not nervous," Yankees starter David Phelps said. "They've already proven they can do it. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."

According to YES Network research, Almonte was the first Yankee to have a three-hit game that included a home run within his first three major-league games since Oscar Azocar did it on July 18, 1990.

"I think it pretty much went as I imagined," Almonte joked.

Almonte actually had a chance for a fourth hit after Lyle Overbay had an RBI single in the eighth, but he struck out against reliever Cesar Ramos.

Almonte said he got his home run ball back, and after he gets it autographed by the entire team, he plans to give it to his mother.

Besides the big night at the plate, Almonte also prevented a run from scoring in the fourth. With the game tied at 2-2 and the bases loaded, Matt Joyce lifted a fly ball to medium-deep left field, Luke Scott considered scoring but Almonte made a perfect throw to catcher Austin Romine.

Almonte's offense and defense helped Phelps win for the third time in his last four home starts on a night where he worked in and out of trouble. Phelps allowed two runs and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings while throwing 102 pitches and pitching with men on base in every inning.

Boone Logan struck out Joyce with a runner on first for the final out of the sixth. Shawn Kelley fanned two in the seventh, David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth, and Mariano Rivera finished up in a non-save situation.

Hernandez allowed five runs and nine hits in seven innings, falling to 1-7 lifetime against the Yankees. He described the sinker that Almonte hit out as being "flat without any movement."

Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott had run-scoring singles for the Rays, who were trying to win three straight for the first time in three weeks.

"We weren't awful tonight," Maddon said. "Phelps pitched out of some tough spots; he's good. On the other side, we just had some bad baseball luck on our side."

NOTES: Tampa Bay officially announced the signing C Nick Ciuffo, its top pick from this year's draft and the 21st overall pick. He will report to the Gulf Coast League. ... New York CF Curtis Granderson is with the team for the weekend but will head to Tampa next week to continue the next phase of his rehab from a broken bone on his left hand. So far, he has been able to play catch and lift with his lower body after having the pin removed Thursday. ... Tampa Bay LHP David Price allowed two runs and two hits in 2 1/3 innings during in a rehab assignment with Class A Port Charlotte. He struck out four of the 11 hitters he faced while throwing 29 of 49 pitches for strikes. ... The Yankees designated SS Reid Brignac for assignment and recalled SS Alberto Gonzalez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to serve as the backup to Nix. ... The Yankees also acquired infielder Brent Lillibridge from the Chicago Cubs for cash considerations or a player to be named. He had been playing at Triple-A Iowa.
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