As soon as Shane Victorino’s liner in the second inning appeared to graze Hiroki Kuroda’s pitching hand, you could just feel the life getting sucked out of a half-empty Yankee Stadium. Injuries have decimated the Yankees lineup, but suddenly they were faced with the prospect of losing one of their top pitchers.
“You’re always concerned when it hits his hand,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I saw him throw some warmup pitches after that and felt better about it, but obviously it started to bother him at the end, because we saw him really lose his command.”
Kuroda tried to stay in the game, but four batters later — two of which he uncharacteristically hit with pitches — it was clear that he couldn’t go any further. The injuries are piling up, but Girardi refused to accept any excuses after the Yankees dropped their second straight with a 7-4 loss against the rival Boston Red Sox.
“You can waste your time worrying, or you could just go out and play every day and see what you can do,” he said. “Obviously, we hope we’re going to get all of these guys back and they’re impactful players, but if you start focusing on holding the front, that’s a negative thought. Go out and win series and play the best that you can play.”
• The good news is that Kuroda’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious. It was announced during the game that he has a contusion in his right middle finger, but the X-rays came back negative. Kuroda said he couldn’t continue because he was having trouble gripping the ball on certain pitches, but he said there isn’t much swelling. His next start is up in the air, but he’s scheduled for a bullpen on Friday. That may be a bit optimistic. “I guess it happens, so I’ll try to regroup myself and prepare for that next start,” he said. “I wasn’t able to put my strength on the ball.”
• Kuroda was relieved by Cody Eppley, who got out of a bases loaded jam by inducing an inning ending double play. But when Eppley gave up two runs in the third and started getting knocked around, Girardi called on Adam Warren. The young right-hander did a great job of sparring the bullpen after it looked like the Yankees might have to empty it out. He gave up a two-run single to Jacoby Ellsbury when he entered the game, but those were base runners that he inherited from Eppley. Warren ended up giving the Yankees 5 1/3 much needed innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits and one walk while striking out four. “It’s definitely a game where I wouldn’t expect to come in that early with Kuroda, but I’ve been picking these guy’s brains and they’ve been telling me to just stay mentally ready,” Warren said.
• Girardi was very pleased with what he saw from Warren. “He did a tremendous job,” he said. “He saved our bullpen with the amount of innings that he was able to give us today. I thought he threw the ball extremely well and mixed his pitches. That’s a long man’s job, and that’s exactly what he did today.”
• Unfortunately for Warren, the Yankees weren’t able to do much off of Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz. After allowing two base runners in the first inning, Buchholz found his groove on his way to seven innings of one-run baseball. He allowed six hits and struck out four to earn the win. “He’s good, and he always has been,” Vernon Wells said. “He was throwing strikes, keeping the ball down, and when he does that, he’s very effective. Him and (Jon) Lester have obviously shown early on that they’re back to where they know they can be, and when those two are at the top of their rotation throwing the ball the way they have, they’re going to be a good team.”
• Buchholz’s one blemish came in the fourth inning when Travis Hafner parked one in the Yankees’ bullpen. If healthy, Hafner could have a big impact in this park with the short porch in right field. Overall, Girardi sounded pleased with the way that the Yankees’ at-bats. “I thought we swung the bats well tonight – even better than the four runs that we had,” he said. “I thought we squared some balls up and didn’t get much for it, so I felt pretty good about that.”
• Another newbie also had a nice night for the Yankees. Vernon Wells went 3 for 4, including a three-run homer in the eighth to make the final score respectable. “Fastball,” Wells said when asked which pitch he hit out. “He was trying to get ahead with fastballs and I’m not one to wait around too much, so I took my chances.”
• Wells had struggled with the Los Angeles Angels in recent seasons, but he’s parlayed a good spring into a solid first two games with his new club. “I think every game, every at-bat that you have, you want to be productive,” he said. “You want to go in, have your approach and stick to it. That’s something that from once the offseason started, my goal was just to get better. Get back to doing what I’m capable of doing – making solid contact. If I do that, then I’m capable of helping this team out from start to finish.”
• Along with homers from Wells and Hafner, the Yankees also got a multi-hit effort from Kevin Youkilis. The newcomers hitting 4-5-6 went a combined 6 for 12 with every Yankee RBI, but it’s the familiar faces at the top of order (Brett Gardner, Ichiro and Robinson Cano) who combined to go 0 for 11. The Yankees will need those guys to get going and set the table for this offense to get ignited. “I think it’s hard no matter what,” Wells said of losing the first two games of the season. “You never want to lose games. Obviously, they’re going to come, but we haven’t played good enough baseball to win. That’s the bottom line. We haven’t clicked in all three phases of the game. It’s just a matter of time before we do, but it would be nice if it happened sooner, rather than later.”
• Those of you who follow me on Twitter (or those who braved the cold and made it out to the game) know that it was frigid in here tonight. I had to make several trips inside to defrost my fingers so that I could keep typing, and it obviously has an impact on the players, as well. I would think it would be especially difficult for pitchers. “It’s not the greatest conditions in the world,” Girardi said. “I think the wind is probably a big factor for the people that have to throw the baseball. Sometimes the feeling in your hand isn’t what you’re accustomed to feeling, and there’s some balls that don’t quite carry as well. There might have been some more runs put up tonight on both sides if it’s a different type of night, but it’s something that you have to deal with. You have to find a way to get through it.”
• I’ll give the final word to Girardi, who was quick to remind any panicky fans that it’s very, very early to start getting too caught up in a couple of losses: “It’s not unusual to lose two games in a row,” he said. “I think it becomes somewhat glaring when it’s the first two games of the year. We didn’t start off too good last year, too, if I remember, and that turned out alright.” (The Yankees started 0-3 last season.)
Associated Press photos