While just about everything seemed to be working for Hiroki Kuroda on Friday when he pitched eight scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels in the Yankees’ home opener, it was the complete opposite story in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
“My sinker didn’t have much movement today,” Kuroda said. “My sinker is my core pitch, but I didn’t really have my other pitches working either. In past outings, I was able to go to other pitches and make adjustments.”
It was quite clear from the first few batters of the game that the right-hander was going to struggle tonight. He gave up a leadoff single to Denard Span, followed by back-to-back RBI doubles from Jamey Carroll and Joe Mauer. Justin Morneau, who had a ridiculous game, terrorized Kuroda all night, including a two-run blast to cap a four-run first inning. After allowing only five hits total in his last outing, Kuroda gave up five in the first inning alone. He left a lot of balls in the middle of the plate, and the Twins made him pay.
“Today was just one of those days where it seemed like he was struggling with command,” Russell Martin said. “When that happens, you try to throw breaking balls early in the count and keep the hitters off balance. But they were just fighting off good pitches, and when they got a pitch to hit, they didn’t miss it.”
• The first inning was the worst that we saw from Kuroda, but Morneau was on him all game. After dealing with concussion issues for the past few season, the 2006 AL MVP seemed plenty healthy tonight. He went 3 for 4 with two homers and three RBI, knocking Kuroda out of the game with a blast to the Bleacher Creatures in the fifth. “It just seems like he’s on everything,” Martin said of Morneau. “Try to go up and in with the cutter, and he smokes it to right. Try the backdoor breaking ball, and he leaves it over the plate. He’s just not missing any pitches right now, and it’s tough.”
• One thing you can say about Kuroda, is that he certainly holds himself accountable. “I can’t really make that an excuse,” Kuroda said when asked if him being unfamiliar with the Twins lineup hurt him tonight. “I’m a professional baseball player, and when I go out on the mound, I’m out there to win.”
• The big news to come out of the postgame press conference is that Brett Gardner is heading to the 15-day DL. He was scratched right before the game due to soreness in his right elbow, and Girardi said after the game that he’s going to be out for a couple of weeks. He said he thinks the injury occurred when Gardner caught his wrist while making a sliding catch last night. “He took BP today and said he felt fine,” Girardi said. “But when he went to take his swings in the cage at 6:20-6:30, it wasn’t fine. So at some point in between, it must have really flared up.”
• In part because of an overtaxed bullpen, Girardi said the team will call up RHP Cody Eppley to take Gardner’s roster spot. Eppley was claimed off of waivers from the Texas Rangers on April 5. The 26-year-old posted a 3.90 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9 in 55 1/3 innings of relief with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock last season.
• Without Gardner, you can expect to see Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones split time in left field, but Girardi noted that Eduardo Nunez is an option there as well. Ibanez leaves something to be desired defensively, while Jones has looked lackadaisical at times. “If they need me to play wherever, I’m ready to help out,” Ibanez said. “Left, right, whatever.”
• The Yankees got right back into the game after Kuroda’s rough first inning with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Derek Jeter led off with a single, Curtis Granderson walked and Mark Teixeira hit a sac fly. Robby Cano followed that with an RBI double, and then Nick Swisher came through with a two-run single. But Eric Chavez ended the inning by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded. “It seemed like we were just one hit short all night from tying it up or possibly going ahead,” Girardi said. “You look at the last at-bat, and Tex just missed that ball. I was pleased with our at-bats. I thought we continued to swing the bats and hit the ball hard.”
• There were good signs offensively tonight from Jeter, Cano and Tex. Cano went 2 for 4 with a double and a solo shot in the third inning. Jeter continued his hot hitting with a 3 for 5 day, launching his fourth homer of the season to pull the Yanks to within one in the ninth. He seems to be on everything, as he currently leads the Yankees in homers and batting average (.389). And the most encouraging signs came from Tex, who hit the ball hard every time up. He finished 2 for 5, but his best swings came on outs. In the first, he drove a ball to CF; in the third, he drove a ball to deep left-center; and in the ninth, he just missed hitting one out to right to tie the game. All of those at-bats came from the left side. “I’ve been feeling really good at the plate,” Teixeira said. “Right-handed and left-handed, and it showed today. I thought had five good at-bats, and you really can’t ask for anything more except for a win.”
• The Yankees bullpen also did some fine work tonight. Both of their lefties out of the pen — Boone Logan (1.35 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 6.2 IP) and Clay Rapada (3.86 ERA in 4.2 IP) — combined to pitch 3.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six. Logan retired four consecutive batters via strikeout during one stretch, and is averaging nearly two K’s per inning.
• Here’s Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on Morneau, who was the feel-good story of the game: “I’ve watched him go through struggles the last couple of years here,” he said. “Numerous injuries and then the concussion thing, and I’ve watched him not be able to play baseball, which he likes to do an awful lot… To see the smile on his face and see him rooting for his teammates, which is really huge for us, and being a part of this, it’s big. That’s what you manage for.”
• Phil Hughes will get the start for the Yankees tomorrow and try to bounce back from two disappointing starts. I’ll have more on him in a post I’m going to put up tomorrow morning.
Associated Press photos