SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—After two consecutive rocky outings, Albert Abreu made sure to finish his time in the Arizona Fall League on a high note.
Abreu pitched five scoreless innings in his final AFL start, helping Scottsdale beat Surprise 2-0 on Monday afternoon in a crisp 1 hour, 56-minute contest.
The Yankees' 22-year-old righthander played a direct role in moving the game along. Though he allowed six hits, he picked off two runners at first base and erased another on a double play. Overall he needed just 66 pitches to get through his five innings of work.
"At the beginning of the (Fall League) season I feel like I was better than I am right now," Abreu said through a translator. "But I've kept working and I achieved the goal I had in my mind, which was to finish strong."
Abreu began the Fall League with three straight starts of at least five innings and one earned run or less. He followed up by allowing six runs over 7.2 innings in his next two starts.
Abreu's rebound performance in his finale was by no means his best outing. He didn't strike anybody out, walked a pair and most of his hits allowed were lined shots off fastballs he left over the plate.
But Abreu's ability to pitch out of that trouble and ultimately keep runs off the board was a particularly encouraging development, and an outgrowth of the strides he's made throughout the fall.
"I think he got away with some mistakes, got hit a little bit, but what he did after he gave up the base hits was minimize the damage by making good quality pitches," said Scottsdale manager Jay Bell, who also managed Abreu at high Class A Tampa this season. "He was pretty good out of the stretch today, did a really good job with his secondary pitches. That's one thing that's gotten a lot better over the course of the season. I've watched him command the offspeed pitches a lot better."
Those secondary pitches have long been critical to Abreu's success. He boasts a 95-96 mph fastball, but is most dominant when he can back it up with his 83-85 mph changeup and 81-83 mph power curveball.
His secondaries weren't working early in his latest outing, and he surrendered five hits in his first three innings. He found a feel for them in the middle innings, though, and retired the final five batters he faced.
"I was locking in and just throwing strikes with all my pitches so the hitters would get themselves out today," Abreu said. "I got a lot of ground balls and that helped."
Abreu's five scoreless frames brought his final overall line to 1-2, 2.60 in six AFL starts. It was a particularly encouraging performance after he missed two months of the regular season with a lat strain pitched only 53.1 innings.
Now, Abreu can move forward into 2018 with a healthy, positive finish at his back.
“He's handled himself extremely well on the mound," Bell said. "He's a guy we're very, very excited about as an organization."
NEWS AND NOTES
—Rays righthander Burch Smith pitched four innings, allowed one hit and struck out nine in a brilliant outing for Surprise. The 27-year-old missed all of 2015 and 2016 after having Tommy John surgery and pitched to a 2.40 ERA in 13 minor league appearances this year, his first professional innings since 2014. He sat 93-96 mph with his fastball, 74-76 mph with his devastating curveball and 79-81 with a swing-and-miss changeup.
—Angels outfielder Troy Montgomery provided the defensive highlight of the day when he threw out Rays catcher Brett Sullivan at the plate with a one-hopper from right field for Scottsdale. Montgomery, an eighth-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016, has four outfield assists in 18 AFL games.
—Yankees shortstop Thairo Estrada hit an RBI triple off the wall in right-center and came home on a Kevin Kaczmarski sacrifice fly in the second inning to supply Scottsdale's scoring. The slick-fielding infielder raised his AFL slash line to .352/.395/.451 with the performance.
—Cardinals catcher/first baseman Andrew Knizner went 3-for-4 to lead Surprise. He has a hit in eight of his last 10 games and is third in the AFL batting title race with a .358 average.