Greetings from Pearson International Airport. With the Yankees playing a day game at home tomorrow, the press box emptied out pretty quickly after the game. Bang out a game story in about 15 minutes and then head to the airport to (at last) head back to New York. I actually think the Yankees are heading home with more reason for optimism than pessimism. The Teixeira injury is a real problem, and I’m not ready to declare Yangervis Solarte a reliable everyday player just yet, but the pitching has been awfully good and the team just won three of four.
“I thought we played well,” Derek Jeter said. “We pitched well. Even (Saturday), a game we lost, we pitched extremely well. I like how we’ve been playing. It’s always good to go home, especially with the home opener, after a win. Every time we go out, we try to play well and we try to improve.”
There’s a lot of cliche in that quote, but there’s also a lot of typical Jeter focus on the pitching staff. And the pitching staff looks pretty good. Six games isn’t much of a sample size, but right now David Phelps and CC Sabathia are the only Yankees pitchers who have ERAs higher than 3.18. Given all of the uncertainty about this staff — Sabathia’s transformation, unfamiliar starters at the back of the rotation, inexperience in the bullpen — the fact the pitching has been good early seems at least a little bit meaningful. Sets a solid tone, and creates some reason to believe this staff could be good enough.
Kind of like his season debut, Sabathia’s second start doesn’t have a particularly impressive final line — 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 6 K — but the vast majority of his innings were really good. He’s clearly susceptible to big innings, but he’s also able to get a bunch of outs with the stuff he has now. He had retired 17 of 18 before the Blue Jays put together a two-out rally in the sixth.
“CC got the ball up that inning at the end,” Joe Girardi said. “If he stays down, I think he might give us seven (innings). It just goes to show you that you could be rolling along, and if you make a few mistakes, you can get hurt pretty quickly in this league.”
It’s a finer line with Sabathia these days, but that’s nothing we didn’t already know. He’ll have to be more consistent from pitch to pitch if he’s going to turn a few good innings into a good start.
“It felt pretty good,” Sabathia said. “I’d take two pitches back in that sixth inning: the cutter (that Navarro hit for a double) and the ball (Kratz) hit down the line, but other than that, I felt I pitched pretty good.”
When Sabathia was finished, the pieced together bullpen did its job again, with Dave Robertson getting his third save in four days. After beginning the year with two embarrassing losses to the Astros, the Yankees are coming home with a .500 record.
“It’s better than going home 0-6,” Sabathia said. “We’ll take that off a road trip, the first one of the year. Now go home for a long home stand, and hopefully win that home stand.”
· The Yankees finally have a home run this season, and it was hit by — of all people — Brett Gardner, who homered in the fourth inning after walking and stealing a base to set the stage for a three-run first. “I don’t think anybody bet on that,” Gardner said. “Guys just give me a hard time, but I didn’t realize we hadn’t hit a home run yet, to be honest.”
· In the American League right now, only the Royals have a lower slugging percentage than the Yankees. Makes sense, then, that the Yankees have one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league as well. The middle of the order just hasn’t been very good, but I find it hard to believe that Brian McCann is going to slug .238 this year, or that Carlos Beltran is going to hit .158 or that Alfonso Soriano is never going to drive in a run. Only two guys are hitting well beyond their expected production: Ichiro Suzuki and Yangervis Solarte. The middle of the order will surely get better (if it doesn’t, well then I take back everything I wrote about having a sense of optimism).
· Speaking of which, Soriano snapped an 0-for-17 today. “It was good to see,” Girardi said. “You can talk about you’ve been through it before, but as a hitter you’re like, come on, let me get a hit. It’s good to get it out of the way.”
· It’s only two appearances, but Adam Warren may be emerging as the early favorite for the seventh-inning job. He pitched really well again today. “I talked about that I thought he threw the ball well out of the bullpen last year,” Girardi said. “His start in Panama was as good of stuff as I saw all spring. He’s got a number of pitches that he can go to. We like his stuff.”
· Jeter passed Paul Molitor on the all-time hits list today. “It’s special,” Jeter said. “I grew up watching Paul. I played against him briefly. I have a lot of respect for him and his career. Anytime you talk about eighth in anything, it’s special. It definitely means a lot. … I really haven’t (checked who’s next on the list). I’m aware of it when I get close to someone, but it’s not like I have some sort of a checklist at home that I’m going over. This year in particular, I’m just happy to be back out there playing. I’m sure someone here will remind me if I get close to somebody else. I try to enjoy it, especially when it’s someone like Paul, someone that you know and that you appreciate and respect. You try to enjoy it a little bit, but I don’t know who’s next.”
· By the way, Molitor and Jeter really have pretty similar career slash lines, and Molitor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer on his bat alone. Jeter always gets credit for being a guy of intangibles, but even if you take out the fact that he’s won so many championships and played the infield’s most important position, he’s had a first-ball Hall of Fame career with his bat alone.
· Sabathia gave up that leadoff Melky Cabrera home run on a cutter. It was also a cutter that Jose Bautista hit for a single that started the two-out rally in the sixth, and a cutter that Dioner Navarro hit for a double. Sabathia said he still likes the pitch, though. No plans to get away from it.
· Jacoby Ellsbury went crashing into the warning track and eventually the wall trying to make a running catch today. “Got me out of my chair,” Girardi said. “I stood up and was like, ‘Come on. Get up. Get up. Get up.’ And I saw him get up and felt a lot better about it.”
· This was Sabathia’s 400th career start. He’s now 7-1 in career starts at Rogers Centre and 15-4 all-time against the Blue Jays. Last time he walked no one in a start was August 7 of last year.
· Final word goes to Sabathia: “This is the key to our team, pitching, and trying to give the bullpen as much rest as we can. So try to go deep into games and keep those guys fresh. We have a really good staff, and we just want to try to keep it up.”
Associated Press photos