Yankees send message, but they're not perfect yet

NEW YORK -- Youth and inexperience have been among the driving forces behind the New York Yankees' early-season success.

They've also, at rare moments, been the source of some of the Yankees' troubles.

So consider the Bronx Bombers' rawness both a blessing and, as they learned in ‪Sunday night‬'s series finale against the Boston Red Sox, a curse.

In the seventh inning Sunday, the curse reared its ugly head.

Clint Frazier, the Yankees' 24-year-old outfielder on the major league roster for most of the year because of the team's rash of injuries, had a couple of late-inning gaffes that even his manager chalked up in part to a lack of big league playing time.

"That's part of continuing to develop as a young player," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "He's working his tail off, and like I've talked about, he's making strides out there, but obviously there's been some mistakes along the way, too."

In a disastrous inning that precipitated ‪Sunday night‬'s 8-5 series-ending loss, Frazier -- who this season is getting his first extended major league experience since his debut in the summer of 2017 -- had the following foibles:

• He committed an error while approaching a ground ball that was hit right at him, letting the ball go bouncing past him to the wall as the Red Sox scored a run.

• He threw wide on another bungled play, trying unsuccessfully to nail a baserunner at home plate.

• He misread a pair of fly balls hit toward him, even laying out and diving at the last minute for one ball he should have caught easily.

"There's going to be days where things kind of seem like they're not going your way. It just always seems like the ball is being hit to you," veteran center fielder Aaron Hicks said. "That's just a time where you learn over time that you've got to slow the game down. Know the situations going into it, what might happen before the play even starts.

"Just kind of control the moment and do your best to get clean innings after that."

As messy as Frazier's performance might have been, it didn't take away from the fact the Yankees earlier this weekend secured their ninth straight series win and now hold a sizable, 8½-game advantage over the rival Red Sox.

The biggest lesson the Yankees learned about themselves coming out of the weekend is that they are indeed a good squad, one that has the ability to rise to the occasion in a tough series. While it is still early, it is fair to expect them to be part of the postseason picture.

If they're going to get there, though, putting together more clean innings must be a top priority.

Following his challenging night, Frazier declined to speak to reporters.

He later spoke to ESPN about his night.

"I've been working really hard every day with [outfield coach] Reggie [Willits] before batting practice starts, and despite what has been happening during the game, I'm still confident in myself to be able to turn this around soon," Frazier said. "It's tough to cost the team runs and a potential win, especially when playing at home against Boston.

"Things keep happening that shouldn't, and I'm acknowledging that with all of the early work I'm doing before games."

This wasn't the first time this season Frazier had some bizarre moments in the field. In Houston earlier this season, a fly ball mysteriously landed between him and center fielder Brett Gardner in a case of miscommunication.

Last week at Kansas City, balls he seemed to be settling underneath turned into errors as the ball ticked out of his glove. The problems he had on that recent road trip pushed him into trying to get some extra, pre-batting practice work polishing his defense. Frazier, along with Willits and fellow outfielders Aaron Judge and Hicks, huddled in Yankee Stadium's right-field patch of grass regularly this week to address the issues.

"My bat is good enough to stay in the lineup, and I've got to make sure my defense is there with it," Frazier, who has 10 home runs, said to ESPN following one pregame workout session. "They know I'm not a bad defender, I'm just kind of going through a little rut right now. So it's just a matter of getting myself out of it and continuing to stay confident."

Apparently, that work wasn't enough. He's still in a rut.

As they continue pushing through this season, the surging Yankees will need dramatically cleaner defense all over the field.

Indeed, they will go only as far as their greatest weakness will allow them. And just as Gary Sanchez's penchant for passed balls was a glaring problem for them last season, Frazier's fly ball foibles have become just as much of an issue.

At this stage, with the Yankees seemingly in every game they play, and with their ability to deliver clutch and timely hits, it's hard to pinpoint other areas that have been as glaringly problematic of late.

That's why, even when you own one of the three best records in all of baseball, you'll have people expecting more.

Boone's expectation is that one of his brightest young stars will indeed get his game turned around in a way that will be more beneficial to the club as a whole.

"He knows he's capable of it, and he knows he's the type of athlete that can do it, so we've just got to keep after it," Boone said. "That's on him, on us to continue to grow from the work. That's why you work so hard at it, and when you get really good at something, confidence follows.

"As you gain success and experience at things, the confidence follows."