Hits not easy to come by this time against Eovaldi

The best thing about Prince Fielder’s smoking double in the seventh inning Monday night was that it meant Nathan Eovaldi’s no-hit bid was not spoiled by the preceding hit by Nomar Mazara. Imagine if that had been the only hit of the game? Mazara should have grounded out to shortstop, but the Yankees had the shift on, so Mazara’s ball found a hole and slithered into left-center field for a single leading off the seventh.

You can debate the use of infield shifts that have been in vogue in recent years for hours, but the sight of a pitcher wondering where his infielders are is an indictment of what I think is overuse of the practice. Mazara is a rookie for crying out loud, and the Yankees were shifting against him? Mazara wound up getting doubled up on Adrian Beltre’s line drive to Starlin Castro before Fielder got the first legitimate hit off Eovaldi

As a kid growing up in Alvin, Texas, Eovaldi heard all about no-hitters because that is also the home town of Nolan Ryan, who pitched seven of them, three more than any other major-league pitcher. As a flamethrower whose fastball flirts with 100 miles per hour on occasion, Eovaldi resembles Ryan in that phase as well. However, Eovaldi unlike Ryan has not been stingy allowing hits to opponents, so his taking a no-no into the seventh inning was an eye-opener.

Eovaldi entered the game having allowed 701 hits in 649 2/3 innings over the course of his career, including 21 hits in 17 2/3 innings this year in his first three starts. Hitters usually get on base against him but not Monday night. Until the seventh when they both finally got to Eovaldi, Fielder and Mazara had been the only Texas players to reach base. An error by shortstop Didi Gregorius at the start of the second put Fielder on base, but he was quickly erased on a double play. Mazara walked in the fourth and never got beyond first base.

It was not the fastball alone that was working for Eovaldi in the 3-1 victory over the Rangers but how he mixed it with all his pitches. His slider and splitter were dead-on, and he had Texas batters off stride all night. It was a magnificent job by a pitcher in a hitter’s yard.

With a three-run lead going into the eighth, Yankees manager Joe Girardi instead of going to Dellin Betances right away allowed Eovaldi to start the inning, but a leadoff walk ended his brilliant night. Betances came in and got a quick double play before yielding his first earned run of the season on a home run by Brett Nicholas. Betances rebounded with his 23rd strikeout in 10 innings, and Andrew Miller (fifth save) finished the Rangers off in a 1-2-3 ninth.

The Yankees got the trip off to a positive start on a night when two of their players, Alex Rodriguez and Adam Hicks, were unavailable. The Yankees once again struggled with runners in scoring position (1-for-9), but solo home runs by Jacoby Ellsbury and Castro off Texas lefthander Cesar Ramos made up for the lack of clutch. The one hit with a runner in scoring position was a double by Mark Teixeira in the third. Austin Romine, who steered Eovaldi through the game from behind the plate, also had two hits.

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