Hicks well-armed for Yankees

Aaron Hicks, who made some news Wednesday night for his arm strength, drew first blood for the Yankees offensively Thursday night with a single on a soft fly ball to center field to drive in a run. The Yankees entered the game batting .189 in 111 at-bats with runners in scoring position (.089 over their previous eight games), so a clutch hit was welcomed.

It was also a boost to Hicks, who had been hitless in his 17 prior at-bats. He had another strong game in the field. In the fourth inning, he climbed the wall along the left field line to glove a foul fly by Chris Coghlan. Two innings later, Hicks showed off that powerful arm again by throwing out Jed Lowrie trying to stretch a single into a double.

Those plays accounted for the highlights in another Yankees loss, 7-3, to the Athletics, who swept the three-game series.

Hicks was in the starting lineup for the second straight night because manager Joe Girardi wanted to load up on right-handed hitters against Oakland lefthander Rich Hill, who gave up one earned run and three hits with 10 strikeouts in six innings. An errant pickoff by Hill allowed Alex Rodriguez to cross from first base to third base in the fourth inning and resulted in an unearned run with A-Rod scoring on a dribbling single to the left side by Austin Romine.

Brett Gardner was on the bench still nursing a stiff neck, although Girardi said the left fielder would have started if the Athletics had started a right-handed pitcher. Romine started behind the plate for Brian McCann, who is 1-for-18 (.056) in the homestand.

Also on the bench was lefty-hitting shortstop Didi Gregorius with righty-swinging Ronald Torreyes starting instead. Girardi had been critical of Gregorius’ poor base running Wednesday when he ran them out of a rally but told reporters not to read anything into Gregorius sitting down and claimed it was just part of getting another right-handed bat in the lineup.

The only left-handed batter in the Yanks’ lineup was center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Good thing, too. After a shaky few games in the field, Ellsbury made a diving catch in the top of the first inning to rob Mark Canha of a potential run-scoring extra base hit. Ellsbury had a good night at the plate as well with three singles.

Gardner, McCann and Gregorius all entered the game as pinch hitters in the seventh inning when Hill was replaced by righthander Fernando Rodriguez. Yankees starter Luis Severino failed to hold two one-run leads in six innings, but the loss went to Chasen Shreve, who gave up home runs to Khris Davis and Coco Crisp on the first two pitches of the seventh. Coghlan homered off Johny Barbato in the eighth. It was a grim night for the bullpen (five earned runs, three hits, three walks, two strikeouts, three home runs in three innings).

Hicks’ throw from left field that cut down Oakland’s Danny Valencia at the plate to end the fourth inning Wednesday night was recorded at 105.5 miles per hour by MLB Statcast. It was the fastest throw by an outfielder since Statcast debuted at the start of the 2015 season. The previous best was 103.1 mph by the Astros’ Carlos Gomez in September 2015.

It was announced Wednesday that the Grapefruit League drew an average of 7,096 fans per game this spring, the first time in the 100-year history of spring training in Florida that teams eclipsed 7,000 in attendance. The Yankees averaged 10,053 fans per home game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to lead the Grapefruit League in attendance for the third consecutive season.

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