After a two-run loss, it’s easy to second guess a couple of two-run innings. And in each case, the blame seems to be shared between two different Yankees.
The second guessing starts with the first inning, when Eduardo Nunez’s error opened the door for a couple of unearned runs. It was a bad play — looked like Nunez rushed, just like he did on so many of last season’s errors — but it’s worth noting that Hiroki Kuroda also walked back-to-back batters with two outs that inning. Kuroda had a chance to get out of it and couldn’t. It was a problem that didn’t go away. Kuroda wasn’t sharp tonight, and his first-inning command problems were a sign of things to come.
“I don’t think my rhythm broke because of the error,” Kuroda said. “If you’re a professional pitcher you’ve got to keep the game close no matter what happens, and I wasn’t able to do that today.”
In the seventh, the Rays added a couple of runs off left-handed reliever Clay Rapada, who let two of three left-handers reach base and struggled to throw strikes with his slider. The big hit, of course, was Evan Longoria’s double (initially ruled a home run but overturned). Right-handers hit .692 — yes, .692 — against Rapada last season, so what was he doing facing Longoria in the first place? That was Girardi’s call, and he explained that he used Rapada against five hitters because the game was already out of hand and he didn’t want to burn out another reliever in that spot.
“You’ve got (lefty) Joyce coming up too,” Girardi said. “It’s 6-2 and you’re down. It’s the (seventh) inning. We’ve got a lot of days early on. We have one day off in the first 16 or 17 days, so we can’t burn these guys out in the first two days.”
The Yankees have scored six runs in each of these first two games, so obviously the offense is doing something right, but it’s hard to miss the fact the Yankees keep hitting into a shift. Curtis Granderson hit into a shift twice yesterday, and tonight Alex Rodriguez ended the game by grounding into a shift up the middle. Mark Teixeira’s line drive in the eighth went from a two-run single to an inning-ending double play because of the shift.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen a shift like that,” Nick Swisher said. “Righties, lefties, it doesn’t really matter. It feels like there’s 15 guys on the right side of the infield or the left side of the infield.”
The Rays typically use a shift more often than any other team in baseball, but they seem to be using it more than usual this weekend. It’s common for Teixeira to see a shift when he bats left-handed, but the Rays seem to be shifting at least a little bit against most of the Yankees hitters.
“You really could play it against everybody,” Teixeira said. “Call me crazy, (but) I’m surprised people don’t play four outfielders sometimes. Game on the line, you don’t want a gapper, why don’t you put four outfielders out there? We’re not there yet, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where there’s so much information, computers are doing such a great job of showing you exactly where you need to play guys. That’s just the age of baseball we’re in.”
• Hiroki Kuroda said he didn’t have his command and didn’t have a single go-to pitch tonight. He uses a lot of pitches and usually has one he can really lean on. Tonight, they were all off. “Overall I wasn’t really sharp,” he said. “Especially I didn’t have my command today. I think that led to a lot of the trouble that I got into. … I really wish I could have continued what I had in spring training, but all my pitches were a little bit off and I didn’t have one pitch I could rely on today, so it was really disappointing.”
• Kuroda was very nearly hit by a broken bat in the sixth inning, but ducked just in time. “I saw the bat and I just ducked,” he said. “Best reaction I could have.”
• Swisher thought the umpires got the call right on Evan Longoria’s seventh-inning double. It was initially called a home run, but Swisher pointed out that a fan wearing a Yankees jersey reached over the wall to catch it. The umpires reviewed and ruled that the ball would have hit off the top of the wall. “I want to say yes (I could have caught it), but I’m not quite sure,” Swisher said. “I think it would have bounced off the top of the cage. I was definitely sure somebody reached over.”
• Girardi said he feels no need to talk to Nunez after today’s error. “He bounced back and made some plays,” Girardi said. “If I see I need to talk to him, I’ll talk to him. Not yet.”
• Rapada’s job is to get lefties, but he walked Carlos Pena and let Matt Joyce hit a bloop single for two runs. “I’ve got to be able to come into the game and throw my breaking ball for a strike,” Rapada said. “And I think I only did that once tonight. When I cripple myself with just throwing fastballs, it’s not going to get it done.”
• Girardi said he would have gone to Cory Wade had Rapada gotten Joyce out in the seventh, but after the Joyce jam shot, Girardi decided to try to stick with Rapada through Luke Scott.
• Girardi on starting the year with two straight losses: “We have a long, long ways to go. We have 160 games left. If at any point during the course of the season you make too much out of two games, you’re going to wear yourself out pretty quickly.”
• A parting word from Swisher: “We have a great team, so we have to come out here tomorrow and start proving that.”
Associated Press photos