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Familiar problem exposed in Texas

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[2]Before the Rangers series opener, Joe Girardi called these three games a test to “see how good you are,” but I’m not sure the Yankees really learned much about themselves here in Texas.

They’ve always had faith that CC Sabathia would get going, they’ve trusted the Hiroki Kuroda would find some consistency, and they’ve known that a good starting pitcher — on a really good night — he can shutdown even deep and powerful lineup. Losing two out of three against a team like the Rangers didn’t teach the Yankees a whole lot, unless they needed to learn that they’re not a perfect team and can be beaten by a the team with the best record in the league.

The real issue with these three games is that it exposed what the Yankees already knew to be true: That they have a real problem in their rotation.

Sabathia and Kuroda pitched well this series, but the Yankees expect those two to pitch well this year. They’ve also come to expect that Ivan Nova will pitch well tomorrow. Their problem is that Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have been bad, and those struggles were only magnified by Michael Pineda’s season-ending injury, Andy Pettitte’s ongoing minor league process and the fact that D.J. Mitchell is the only Triple-A starter with an ERA below 5.25.

“I think we’re pitching deep, but like anything else, I think we have some of our guys have got to get going,” Brian Cashman said. “They’re better than what they’ve shown in the first three weeks of the season at the Major League level and Triple-A. Other guys we’re feeling really good about. Do I feel that we have depth? Yeah. You have to acknowledge, at the same time, we’ve got some guys that we’ve got to get on track.”

Maybe you’d prefer to give Mitchell or David Phelps a shot, but right now the Yankees don’t have a can’t-miss alternative to Hughes and Garcia. They’re choosing not to skip Garcia’s next turn because they need to have him pitch to get things sorted out. They’re also committed to Hughes, trusting that talent will eventually be enough for consistent success.

But how long is the rope?

“Every outing like this is disappointing in its own way,” Hughes said after last night’s letdown. “It’s tough to deal with. The last start wasn’t good by any means. None of them have been good, so it’s a tough thing to deal with. You just hope things get better before they get worse. I’ll do everything in my power and do my best to try to do that.”

Hughes is still having trouble putting away hitters. His fastball velocity has been good, but his location has been bad. His secondary pitches — including his curveball — are hit-or-miss. When he came to spring training, Hughes was pitching for a job. He needed to pitch well to give himself a chance to stick in the rotation. Now that the Yankees have little choice but to keep Hughes in the rotation, he has to pitch well to give them a chance to win some games.

“That’s the case all the time,” Hughes said. “Whether we have guys coming back up or not, I’m trying to get this thing right for the team more than anything. We need wins, and we need our guys to do their jobs. I’m just not doing it right now. I don’t think it really matters what the situation is. If you’re not performing, something has to change.”

The Yankees can’t stick with him forever. At some point, with both Hughes and Garcia, it will be time to roll the dice with someone else.

Associated Press photo