Yankees notes: First-inning domination, a message to Jasson Domínguez

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anthony Volpe ripped a ground-ball single up the middle, rounded first base, then gestured to the New York Yankees’ dugout with his right hand. His face was expressionless, as if he expected it to happen and knew what was coming next.

Of course, Volpe didn’t know the details. He couldn’t have envisioned the Yankees ripping off six first-inning runs to pad a breezy 11-5 win over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night.

But it couldn’t have surprised the 23-year-old. If football has first-half teams, the Yankees have become a first-inning team, and it’s been one of the biggest reasons they’re 49-21, the best record in Major League Baseball. They stayed 2 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.

Designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton offered a succinct analysis.

“It’s important to throw the first punch,” he said.

The Yankees have been terrors early in games all season.

When they wake up Thursday, they’ll lead the league in first-inning runs (57), home runs (20), walks (42) and OPS (.971). They have the second-most hits in the first inning with 83, seven behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last season, as they sank to a fourth-place finish in the AL East, they scored just 75 first-inning runs; only eight teams scored fewer.

This season, nearly every Yankees lineup since Volpe took over as the team’s leadoff hitter April 10 has started with a 1-2-3 of Volpe, Juan Soto and Aaron Judge. Here were their numbers in the first inning entering Wednesday:

• Volpe: .315/.315/.500 with one home run and an .851 OPS in 57 plate appearances
• Soto: .327/.485/.653 with five home runs and a 1.138 OPS in 66 plate appearances
• Judge: .423/.537/1.019 with nine home runs and a 1.557 OPS in 68 plate appearances

“Volpe, Soto, Judge, (Alex Verdugo), Stanton, on and on,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s a pretty good way to start off a ballgame, coupled with (how) the hitters and the hitting group as a whole have done a real good job of being prepared and having a game plan and really leaning on and trusting one another, too.”

Monday night, it all started with a single from Volpe, who then stole second before Soto’s five-pitch walk. Then Judge inside-outed a single to shallow right field, loading the bases. After Stanton struck out looking, Verdugo smashed a grounder to first base that Vinnie Pasquantino whiffed on, allowing the ball to travel to right field and score Volpe and Soto. Pasquantino wasn’t charged with an error.

A Gleyber Torres walk forced Royals manager Matt Quatraro to pull opener Dan Altavilla in favor of lefty Daniel Lynch IV, who then gave up a sacrifice fly to center to Anthony Rizzo and then a three-run shot to catcher Jose Trevino. The blast gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead, and they never looked back.

“Just a lot of good things happening in that inning,” Boone said.

“You want to punch first,” Trevino said. “That way your pitcher gets in there and gets comfortable to attack the zone freely.”

That allowed starting pitcher Cody Poteet the breathing room to go 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs. Reliever Ian Hamilton was charged with the other three earned runs allowed.

Stanton’s power display

Stanton’s 449-foot, fifth-inning solo shot extended the Yankees’ lead to 8-0, and it was the farthest home run since he hit one 451 feet in September.

The blast was Stanton’s second in two days and his 17th on the season in 61 games. Last year, Stanton hit 24 homers in 100 games while posting a career-worst 86 OPS+. This season, he has a 113 OPS+ so far.

The Yankees played their final game of the season last year in Kansas City. That day, Stanton told reporters he felt like he needed to make offseason changes. How many has he made to get himself back to being a consistently productive hitter?

“A good amount,” he said.

He added that he felt like he’s had a “good” season so far, hitting .233 with 40 RBIs and a .779 OPS.

“It could always be better,” he said.

A message to The Martian

Earlier Wednesday, the Yankees finally made a decision on top prospect Jasson Domínguez, optioning the center fielder to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and ending his rehab assignment. The 21-year-old hasn’t played in the majors this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery on his left throwing arm.

Domínguez, who went 1-for-5 on Wednesday for the RailRiders, has hit .358 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 21 rehab games. As a talent, he’s major-league-ready. But the Yankees’ outfield of Judge, Stanton and Verdugo has performed well, and the team feels it doesn’t make sense to plop Domínguez on its bench as a fourth outfielder. It would rather allow him to play every day in the minors. The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked Domínguez, nicknamed “The Martian,” as the No. 13 prospect in the game in his most recent list.

“Just keep doing your thing,” Boone said was the message to Domínguez, who debuted in September. “We love the person, the player. We know he’s going to be a big part of this. But also understand, too, that he’s also still very, very young in his career, and there’s still a lot to be gained and earned, and every day you get experience (facing) pitching and playing in games. But he’s got a great head on his shoulders, and I feel like he’s destined for great things in this game.”

(Photo of Anthony Volpe: Luke Hales / Getty Images)

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