The Yankees are currently mired in a stretch of mediocre play that has seen subpar contributions from the offense, defense, and pitching. It has been very frustrating to watch as a fan, and presumably equally frustrating for the players. The Yankees looked to get themselves back on track today against the Royals.
Hiroki Kuroda was on the hill for the Yankees, facing off against hard-throwing righty Felipe Paulino. Paulino dominated when he last faced the Yankees a few weeks ago, and the Yankee bats faced a tough task today catching up to his mid-90′s heat and nasty slider. Kuroda was looking to avoid the early-inning woes that have plagued him all season. Mark Teixeira, back in the lineup after getting a few days off to recover from his bronchial infection, ended up batting 7th. This was a surprising demotion, though it was not entirely undeserved, given Tex’s recent performance. Joe Girardi emphasized that was temporary to allow Teixeira to work his way back into form, but this could be a storyline worth following.
I feel like a broken record writing this, but once again Kuroda ran into trouble in the 1st inning. He retired the first 2 hitters on a ground ball and a strikeout, before giving up a single to center to Billy Butler. Kuroda got ahead of the next hitter, Mike Moustakas, 0-2 before wasting a splitter in the dirt. On 1-2, Moustakas stroked a 91 mph fastball to right for a 2-run homer, putting the Royals ahead 2-0. Kuroda retired Jeff Francoeur to end the inning, but once again, he put the Yankees in an early deficit. Once again, Yankee pitchers seem unable to keep the ball in the park.
The Yankees looked to strike back against Paulino in the bottom of the inning, mounting a 2-out rally of their own. A walk to Robinson Cano and a single by Alex Rodriguez sent surprise #5 hitter Raul Ibanez to the plate. While Ibanez has been so effective in clutch situations so far this season, he failed in this instance, popping out to 1st to end the inning.
The Royals added on another run in the top of the 3rd. A leadoff walk and stolen base by Jarrod Dyson put a runner in scoring position for the struggling Eric Hosmer. Unlike the Yankees of late, Hosmer came through, doubling to left to score Dyson, and make it a 3-run game. Kuroda continued to labor in this inning. After a groundout by Butler moved Hosmer to 3rd, Kuroda intentionally walked Moustakas to put runners on the corners. After retiring Francoeur on a pop fly, Kuroda loaded the bases by walking Alex Gordon. Fortunately for the Yankees, Kuroda retired Alceides Escobar to prevent the Royals from blowing the game open.
Unfortunately, with the way the Yankee offense has been playing, a 3-run deficit with Paulino on the hill was daunting enough. The Yankees looked like they were in position to claw back when consecutive singles by Russell Martin and Derek Jeter, and a walk to Curtis Granderson loaded the bases with nobody out. Robinson Cano quickly fell behind 0-2 on 2 nasty fastballs before taking a called strike 3 on a slider (which looked borderline, but too close to take). Alex Rodriguez also struck out, sending Ibanez to the plate with a chance to salvage the rally. However, Ibanez could not bring the runners in, flying to left and ending the Yankees’ best scoring opportunity of the game.
The Royals would tack on 3 more runs off of Clay Rapada and Freddy Garcia in the 7th and the 8th, but given the Yankees’ current offensive ineptitude, those runs were hardly necessary. Paulino stymied the Yankees through 6 2/3 innings, and the Bombers did not have much better luck against Tim Collins or Aaron Crow. Paulino is a legitimately talented pitcher with dynamite stuff, but even so Yankees really need to figure out a way to scratch runs across when they are struggling offensively.
Kuroda had what has been a fairly typical outing for him this year. He struggled in the 1st inning, giving up 2 early runs and racking up a high pitch count. He was able to settle down after giving up another run in the 3rd, but due to pitch count and ineffectiveness only lasted 5 1/3 innings. In total, Kuroda gave up 7 hits and 3 walks, with 4 strikeouts.
On the offensive side, the Yankees managed just 7 hits, with 2 each by Rodriguez and Martin. It is nice to see Martin pulling himself out of his early-season funk, but it was a weak offensive performance, particularly with runners on base. The Yankees were an ugly 0-13 with runners in scoring position (6 for their last 71 in those situations), and left 10 men on base, not exactly a recipe for success. When they are not hitting home runs, they are having a tough time stringing together hits with runners in scoring position. Things will turn around soon, but this team is definitely hard to watch right now.
The Yankees will go back to work tomorrow behind Phil Hughes, and looking to snap their slide. They’ll match up against Luke Hochevar, who could be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Yankee offense. In their last matchup, the Yankees pounded the former #1 overall pick for 7 runs in 2 1/3 innings, and they would certainly like to do the same tomorrow.
With the loss, the Yankees fall to 21-21 and last in the division. It has been an awful stretch of play recently, but this team is too talented to keep playing this poorly.
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