The Yankees play a lot of close games, and when that’s the case, nights like this are bound to happen. The bullpen has been terrific, and Vidal Nuno looks promising, but some point a reliever is bound to give up a home run. That’s what Nuno did in the 10th inning, and in the short term, that’s what matters.
Bigger picture, though, Phil Hughes was far more interesting.
“I just tried to execute as many pitches as I could early on,” Hughes said. “I had to battle the first hitter I faced, and he ended up getting a base hit out of it. I was encouraged I was able to get the next three guys and get that last start out of my head a little bit. I was able to get a little rhythm going. It was good to get into that sixth with that high pitch count and have a good inning there as well.”
Hughes was good tonight. He wasn’t great — “I could’ve been better,” he admitted — but two runs through six innings is good enough. Sure, you’d like to see him pitch deeper, and home runs are obvious mistakes, but Hughes gave the Yankees a real chance to win tonight. And he did it coming off the worst start of his career.
“I’m encouraged,” Joe Girardi said. “Hughesy’s run some pretty good streaks for us together. He hit a little rough spot. He’s come out of them before, so there was nothing that led me to believe he wouldn’t come out of it again.”
Hughes is a fastball pitcher, Chris Dickerson is a good fastball hitter, and Hughes got into situations where he needed to throw fastballs to Dickerson. That’s a bad combination, and Dickerson capitalized. After the second homer, Hughes fell behind 2-0 against the next hitter, at which point Larry Rothschild went the mound.
“Just to take a breather,” Hughes said. “Sometimes I have tendency of some bad habits. I start overthrowing a little bit, and I wanted to back off a little bit and collect myself.”
Hughes wound up walking that hitter, but only after his next five pitches after the mound meeting were fouled off. He pitched around an error that inning and retired the last five hitters he faced, three of them on strikeouts. He wasn’t perfect, but he was good enough to forget about last week.
“To be honest with you, nothing about that last start really crept into my mind at all,” he said. “It was just about trying to get that next guy and execute that next pitch.”
• Nuno on the home run pitch to Nate McLouth: “Just trying to get the first pitch over, trying to locate, and when I missed with the cutter in, I had gone with the fastball away. Got it, and then tried to do it again. Got the game plan, but it just (didn’t execute). … It was supposed to be a cutter away, and it was just a little bit off, and he took advantage of it.”
• Obviously not an easy situation for Nuno, who hadn’t pitched since his spot start last Monday in Cleveland. “We’ve tried to keep him going with sides and everything that he’s done,” Girardi said. “Just thought, with all the lefties that they had coming up, that he could give us some distance but unfortunately he gave up a home run.”
• Girardi said he never really considered having either Dave Robertson or Preston Claiborne pitch more than one inning. He liked the left-on-left matchup, and didn’t want to use his short relievers any more than he had to. “I can’t wear them out,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of Claiborne, he continues to impress. Tonight he entered a tied game in the ninth and delivered a scoreless inning, including a strikeout to end the inning after an infield single. “He’s been really good for us,” Girardi said. “The kid’s grown up in front of our eyes. He’s been in some tough situations and he’s seemed to respond.”
• Hughes on the two home run pitches: “He’s a good fastball hitter. Really, I got into situations where I had to throw my fastball. (First one was) 3-2, outer third I thought. He was just looking for a heater and put a good swing on it. The other one I felt like I was trying to go up at the belt and in. It was just down where a lefty wants it. It was two pitches that were out over the plate a little bit. Obviously he did what he was trying to do.”
• Hughes seemed particularly upset by the second Dickerson home run. “I’m annoyed after every homer,” Hughes said. “It’s tough. I felt like I made a good pitch inside to him there — really didn’t set myself up to attack him the way I wanted to, with offspeed stuff. I was falling behind and was forced to give in a little bit.”
• Obviously the Yankees know all about Dickerson, who was playing center field only because Adam Jones has a sore leg. “He’s a strong kid,” Girardi said. “He’s very athletic. He’s a good player. We’ve had him up a couple of times and he’s done some good things for us. And he helped them tonight.”
• Two more RBI for Travis Hafner, who also drove in a couple of runs yesterday. He’s 4-for-9 the past two games.
• The Yankees have not had much success in the past against Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez. “He’s got a good mixture of pitches,” Girardi said. “I think he knows how to move his fastball in and out. His split’s a nice chase pitch. I thought we swung the bats maybe better tonight against him than we have, we just hit some balls at people.”
• This was the first time the Yankees lost a game when scoring first this season. They were the last MLB club to have not lost a game when scoring first. According to Elias, the Yankees 18-0 start when scoring first was the longest such stretch all-time for an American League team.
• Final word goes to Hughes: “For the most part I thought my stuff was pretty good and gave us a chance to win the game so obviously it was a lot better than last time. It’s progress, so I’ll build off this one. … I could’ve been better. Two mistakes. I felt a little out of rhythm out of the windup and I’m trying to work on that in my next bullpen session. Overall it was decent. Hopefully I can take steps forward from this one. ”
P.S. — Don’t forget we’re doing a chat on Wednesday at noon. Stop by if you can.
Associated Press photos