HOUSTON — Because of ’The Martian” who was manning center field and blasting a home run in his first career at-bat, Austin Wells’ first game as a major leaguer flew a bit under the radar.
But it is at least possible the future everyday Yankees catcher made a successful debut Friday.
Wells singled in his first MLB at-bat as part of a 1-for-4 night in the Yankees’ 6-2 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“That was awesome,” said Wells, who later added “unbelievable,” “amazing” and “sick” to describe his day. “I think it’s good to check the box in the first [at-bat], and then after that I was just out there having fun.”
In the second inning, Wells worked a full count against Justin Verlander and smacked a single into right field. He reached first base, collected himself and glanced up to the stands, where the “whole crew” — his parents, brothers, cousins, grandparents — were “going crazy,” he said.
It had been a whirlwind few days for the 24-year-old, who was alerted alongside Jasson Dominguez on Wednesday night, after Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre played in Rochester, that their long climbs were finished.
He talked with his father, who complimented Wells’ haircut, before Wells asked if it looked like a big-league haircut.
Wells looked like a big leaguer at the plate, also adding a sharply hit, 100.9-mph ground ball that became a double play, and looked comfortable behind the plate in working with Carlos Rodon and three Yankees relievers.
“I thought he was just pretty locked in,” said Rodon, who had worked with Wells during spring training and a rehab start. “Not really nervous at all, so it was good.”
A first-round pick in 2020, Wells was drafted out of the University of Arizona primarily for a lefty bat that has mostly lived up to expectation.
Regarded for a good knowledge of the strike zone and a professional approach, Wells posted a .770 OPS with 11 home runs in 58 games at Double-A Somerset before hitting better (.802 OPS) in 33 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Since Gary Sanchez’s bat tailed off and then was traded, the Yankees have lacked a catcher who consistently produces offensively.
The concerns with Wells lie more defensively, a fact he acknowledges.
But he “absolutely” views this opportunity as a chance to prove he can be a major league catcher.
“I think I’m here to do that as well,” said Wells, who sports a bushy mustache, “and then play and help the team win.”
The biggest knock on Wells has been an arm that threw out 13 percent of base-stealers in the minors this season.
The same criticism had followed Jose Trevino, who improved his arm strength with the organization.
“It is an area that is not a strength,” said manager Aaron Boone, who was pleased with the way Wells handled the staff on Day One. “It’s something he needs to continue to work on.”
Boone also called Wells “mature” and “smart” and did not have doubts that Wells could quickly get on the same page with the pitching staff.
Wells will catch often, Boone said, and occasionally serve as designated hitter.
It is a lot to ask of Wells, who had talked with media about three hours before first pitch and then rushed off, ensuring he could handle Rodon and whichever relievers — Randy Vasquez, Wandy Peralta and Jonathan Loaisiga, as it turned out — would follow out of the bullpen.
All while preparing to face Verlander.
“There’s a lot on his plate,” Boone said. “We feel like he’s equipped to handle it.”