This Wasn’t the Cold One I Had in Mind

Sat through another chilly night at Yankee Stadium last night, watching the Yankees fall to the Tigers 6-4 in a game they should have won. Even with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada on the sidelines, they had more than their share of opportunities against a team that has thus far fallen every bit as short of expectations as the Yankees have. Not that the Tigers haven’t been playing decent ball recently; since starting the season 2-10, their offense had put up 6.9 runs per game as they won nine of 14. But their pitching remains a problem; of their five starters, three have more walks than strikeouts, with ace Justin Verlander not far off that unhealthy balance as well. Kenny Rogers came into the game sporting a 7.66 ERA and the burden of having not earned a regular-season win against the pinstripes since 1993.

Yankee starter Philip Hughes — who wasn’t even born when Rogers was drafted — offered no sure thing either, and unfortunately for the makeshift lineup, provided little support. Hughes put the Yankees in a 2-0 hole right off the bat, walking Curtis Granderson on seven pitches, yielding a single to Placido Polanco, advancing both runners on a wild pitch, and surrendering a two-run single to Magglio Ordonez. That last hit was a frustrating one; Johnny Damon was playing center field, and lacking the speed and throwing arm of Melky Cabrera could neither get to the ball in time nor make a credible cutoff throw to limit the damage.

The Yanks tied up the game in the bottom of the second on a two-run homer by Robinson Cano, just one pitch after I noted that the kid hadn’t gone yard while in the lineup, only as a pinch-hitter. Hughes couldn’t keep the account square; he surrendered a solo homer to Granderson to lead off the inning and a two-run shot to Gary Sheffield following a Polanco double and another wild pitch. Catcher Chris Stewart, the fourth backstop to whom Hughes has thrown this year, was brutal behind the plate, and no Chad Moeller with the stick either; if the Yanks are going to be without Posada for awhile, they at least need defensively sound work back there. Half a dozen guys at the bus station could have done a better job than he did in his Yankee debut. Today’s New York Times writeup notes that he and Hughes weren’t on the same page:

If Hughes ever doubted that, he does not now. Hughes explained how he had no command of his fastball, so he resorted to throwing breaking balls. He also said that he and catcher Chris Stewart, who made his debut as a Yankee, had communication problems. Hughes called that “inexcusable,” a word that could define his entire outing.

When they make you pine for the halcyon days of the Moleman…

Granderson figured in the coup de grâce for Hughes the next inning, lashing a two-out double to deep left center field — a ball Damon might have flagged down but Hideki Matsui could not — and then scored on a Polanco single. That chased Hughes, whose ugly line for the night tallied 3.1 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks, 2 K’s, his third disaster start out of four. Suddenly, he’s in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot, and rightly so; he looks as through he needs a stint in Scranton to iron things out. Anyway, he departed to a smattering of boos — yes, the wormy Yankee crowd has already turned on him — in favor of another rookie, Ross Ohlendorf. We had little optimism upon seeing the Dorf, who had yielded eight runs n his last four appearances, but he held the Tigers to one hit and one walk while striking out five over 3.1 innings.

Not that the Yanks could do much about it. Though Rogers struggled with the strike zone, walking the bases loaded with two outs in the third, the Yankees just couldn’t come up with the big hit when they need to. Reliever Denny Bautista walked the bases loaded as well in the eighth, then plunked Derek Jeter to force in a run, but sidearmer Clay Rapada needed only two pitches to get Bobby Abreu to bounce into an inning-ending force play.

The Yankees had their chances in the ninth as well. Facing Todd Jones, whose best days are behind him, they netted a quick run on a Matsui walk, a wild pitch, and a Jason Giambi single, bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs as the sparse remainder of the crowd came alive. Alas, perhaps determined to round off the night’s Left On Base total at an unlucky 13, the Yanks went gently into that not-so-good night, making the final three outs in a five-pitch span. Shelley Duncan, who’d doubled and drawn three walks in what was otherwise a good demonstration of his lefty-mashing skillz, hit into a fielder’s choice on Jones’ first pitch, and Morgan Ensberg, who figures to be the regular at third base while A-Rod is on the DL, grounded out on the first pitch as well. Cano went down 1-2-3 like he had a plane to catch, and that was that. Yuck.

Update: Could it be that Hughes can’t stand the glare of the spotlight? According to a New York Post article, Hughes has difficulty seeing at night:

Joe Girardi revealed after the Tigers’ 6-4 victory over the Yankees that Hughes has some difficulty seeing at night, especially at Yankee Stadium. Hughes and GM Brian Cashman both confirmed the problem, but no one was quick with a remedy.

“At night things get blurry,” Hughes said.

…”His night vision isn’t great,” Girardi said. “It is something we will have to talk about.”

Hughes said he has been checked several times and that he has “perfect vision.” He said his troubles come from the glare of particularly strong lights at night, which he finds problematic at Yankee Stadium. He said there has been some talk in the past of outfitting him with neon glasses to counteract the glare.

I’m not buying this rather poorly-timed excuse. Hughes’ ERA at night for his limited big-league career is 4.94 in 71 innings, whereas in the day it’s 7.23 in 23.2 innings. Night vision problems didn’t seem to bother him when he made that no-hit bid against Texas last year, nor in his first outing of the year against the Blue Jays, his best start of this young season. Hell, it was still daylight when he got the tar wailed out of him by Granderrson and Sheffield.

I hate to sound like a hardass, but for this to suddenly be the explanation for Hughes’ problems doesn’t ring true, and even if it is true, it reflects poorly on the pitcher and the team for going even this long without taking the appropriate steps without this becoming a spectacle. Lame, lame, lame.

Update 2: the Moleman Returneth! Laments Peter Abraham, “A team with a $209 million payroll praying that nobody claims Chad Moeller. Amazing.”

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