I feel for Phil Hughes right now, I really do. He’s the youngest pitcher and the second-youngest player in the majors, and he’s getting knocked around. This talented kid attuned to success has an ERA of exactly 9.00 after tonight’s loss that lowered his record to 0-4. He surrendered all six Tigers runs earned on eight hits, three walks, striking out two on 82 pitches/50 strikes. He struggled again to locate his fastball, his curve hung up, and he hardly threw his change-up and slider–the latter two a total of five pitches according to the YES crew. In sum, he’s been an ineffective two-pitch youngster, and it’s apparent that major-league teams have figured that out. Hughes coughed up two in the first on a walk to Granderson, a single to Polanco (who was on an 0-16 streak entering the game at .174, but got help from Yankees pitching to break his slump), and a single to Ordonez that Damon–and not Melky–blocked in center but couldn’t handle cleanly and couldn’t make a good throw on, 2-0 Tigers. Granderson, whom I respect a ton, homered to lead off the third, 3-2 Tigers, then Sheffield the slob slanderer homered, 5-2 Tigers. With two outs in the fourth, Granderson the Yankee Killer doubled and Polanco the Formerly Slumping singled him in, 6-2 and, after walking Sheffield the Slovenly Self-Promoter, Hughes’s night was over.
Too bad the offense did neither him nor the bullpen any favors, mustering little off the Pine Tar Gambler, that repulsive reprobate Kenny Rogers. The offense left 13 on base, eight in scoring position, and lost despite working eight walks off Tigers pitchers. Cano finally awoke from his deep slumber, homering on a line drive to right to tie it at 2 in the second, but the team continued to strand runners all night while the Tigers added on. With two outs in the first, Abreu and Matsui singled, with each moving up a base on Jones’s E7 but, with second and third, Giambi the Dead Spot popped to shallow left, stranding the first two of 13. Cano homered in the second to tie it at 2. The Yankees loaded the bases in the third in another unrequited rally. With two outs–the first of which saw Abreu fan on three pitches without taking the bat off his shoulder–Giambi, Duncan, and Ensberg walked to load the bases, but Cano’s F7 ended that particular rally. Jeter was stranded on first in the fourth. Duncan’s two-out double left him stranded after Ensberg’s first-pitch 5-3 in the fifth, and Cano, Stewart, and JD meekly went 1-2-3 in the sixth to end the Pine Tar Gambler’s night much better than it should have been.
Big-time kudos to Ohlendorf for holding the game tight through 3 1/3 IP, allowing only a hit and a walk while fanning five on 46 pitches/32 strikes. He was tremendous, and I hope that this prolonged stint against a team that lit up Hughes immediately before he entered restores some much-needed confidence in the talented youngster. He set the tone for the bullpen as a whole which, with Ramirez and Hawkins, only allowed a total of three hits and a walk through 5 1/3 IP of scoreless ball. Very impressive.
Unlike the listless bats, that is, standing in stark, ineffectual contrast to the pen. Matsui’s two-out single in the seventh left him stranded on Giambi’s 4-3. The Yankees threatened in the eighth, when they added a run on Jeter’s HBP RBI. But again, as one of the major themes introduced earlier, all this came with two outs–with no margin for error and no opportunity for productive outs–and Abreu’s force to Guillen at third ended a rally that actually saw the go-ahead run come to the plate. Bad in the clutch, yet again. The Yankees added another run in the ninth off so-called closer Todd Jones. Matsui walked to lead off and moved to second on a wild pitch, Big G actually delivered with a single down the right-field line, 6-4 Tigers with no outs. But Duncan’s one-pitch force got Giambi at second, Ensberg’s one-pitch ground out got him at first, and Cano fanned on three straight. 6-4 Tigers.
Among the few positives, Matsui must play every day. He was 2-4 with a run, is batting .326, and is one of the few Yankees who have steadily contributed this year. [cupping hands to mouth] Mr. Girardi–PLAY MATSUI DAILY AT EITHER DH OR LF, PLEASE!! Jeter was 1-4 and his RBI gave him 14 for the year. Cano homered for the second time this year, driving in two as part of an otherwise unproductive night. Duncan walked three times, showing good patience if nothing else, as well as an alternative to Giambi’s colossally wasteful end-of-contract play. Abreu was 1-5, and appears to have cooled, especially without A-Rod backing him in the lineup on a regular basis. Not to be overlooked with him–and A-Rod–is the syncretism in their productivity last season. The work of one enhanced the other–Abreu’s patience if early-season inconsistency helping to launch A-Rod to a monster year, A-Rod’s frightening presence later helping Abreu bounce back by seeing more and better pitches as the year went on in vain to avoid A-Rod. Now without A-Rod, and without A-Rod hitting great when in the lineup, Abreu just isn’t seeing a lot of very good pitches and he appears to be pressing, chasing some pitches that he otherwise wouldn’t to try to get runs all at once. That’s not his or the Yankees’ game. Ensberg was 0-4, and is starting to clearly show why he’s a back-up. He’s OK in a pinch, but isn’t exactly turning over the bottom of the lineup, batting .233 and making me miss A-Rod even more.
But the persistently pernicious themes of this allegedly vaunted offense continue to rear their ugly heads–lack of clutch hitting, impatience especially in key situations and when they’ve worked a pitcher, and far too often starting potentially promising rallies with two outs thus allowing for no wiggle room, no productive outs, and no mistakes for an offense all-too prone to all kinds of mistakes. To me, the offense and not the performance of the young pitchers has been the biggest disappointment thus far this year. For while Hughes and Kennedy have struggled mightily, only the degree to which they’ve struggled has been the shock, not the struggles themselves. They’re young, teams are figuring them out, and they’re probably understandably on their respective heels from getting rocked. I didn’t expect a 9.00 ERA from Hughes, but I expected bad patches. They sure have come.
But Hughes and Kennedy have the excuses of youth. What of the far more experienced offense? Injuries have deprived it of A-Rod, Jeter for a stretch, and Posada for the foreseeable future. What’s Cano’s excuse, with his increasingly inexcusable and ineffectual impatience and propensity for chasing poor pitches baiting him into exactly the kinds of weak outs the opposition wants? Why is Giambi still trying in vain to bang hits through the teeth of a drastic shift? Why is Jeter swinging at the first pitch instead of showing some two-hole patience? Why has Damon failed to consistently deliver, even as he warms up? Why has this team, with all the collective talent, smarts, knowledge, and experience, scored just under 4.4 runs a game, seventh in the AL? Why entering tonight has this team batted .238 with RISP, and .226 with RISP and two outs, both of which have surely gone down after tonight?
I think it’s somewhat cyclical–the struggles causing them to press and therefore struggle more. But it’s deeper than that. It’s connected to poor approaches at the plate, impatience, swinging too early in counts, failing to really work over pitchers to get into bullpens earlier–such as tonight. I think the impatience is really the biggest thing, and it’s hurting the team’s chances to claw back in games, to get better pitches to hit, to make pitchers continually fall behind, and to make teams pay for their mistakes. Pine Tar Gambler Rogers got off easy tonight, not the first pitcher to do so against the Yanks this season. So did so-called closer Todd Jones. The Yankees had the tying run at the plate with one on and no outs in the 9th and, exactly five pitches later, the game was over. That’s an abject disgrace.
Back to .500 at 14-14. More losses to quickly erase gains. This team lacks a positive identity, a real shame for all the wealth poured into it, for all the talent on it, for all the effort it puts into games, and for all we as blogging fans have tried to discern it. When the team has two outs, it generates some but not enough offense. When it has no or one out, it too often fails to muster enough to tie or take the lead. Right now, the mystery is the identity, and that’s not good.