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Thursday, May 13, 2010
What Bombers? Bats fall asleep on road

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- On the other hand, maybe another rainout wouldn't have been such a bad thing after all.

Let's start off with the good news about Thursday's Yankees-Tigers game. Derek Jeter didn't even wince as he squeezed his left hand, smushed by a 95 mph Justin Verlander fastball in the fifth, into the wristband of his watch. Nick Swisher says his boo-boo biceps is good to go for Friday night's game against the Twins at the Stadium. Chan Ho Park might be ready to pitch again by Sunday. Ivan (Super) Nova pitched two scoreless innings in his major league debut.

And on a day in which meteorologists predicted everything from hailstones to a plague of locusts, not a drop of rain fell on Comerica Park between 1:07 and 3:45 p.m.

CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia surrendered six runs in six innings on Thursday, not one of his better outings.

Oh, wait a minute. That's the bad news.

Or at least just the beginning of it.

What looked five days ago as if it would be a successful, even dominant road trip -- the Yankees trounced the Red Sox in the first two games at Fenway, outscoring them 24-6 -- finished up as a failure, and maybe even the beginning of a disaster.

Now, those first two games in Boston seem as though they happened a month ago, or a year ago, to an entirely different ballclub. The Yankees followed that great start with an equally great fall, losing four of their next five games, including Thursday afternoon's getaway game to the Tigers, 6-0.

That made two shutout losses in two days, even if the 8-0 win in Wednesday's nightcap of a day/night doubleheader tempers the effect just a bit.

But there's no getting around the reality that the Yankees followed the offensive explosion of the first two games in Boston with a lumber slumber over the next five. They lost the last game in Boston and three of four here, including two games in which their high-powered and higher-priced lineup could manage just four hits.

"We really haven't swung the bats too well as of late," Jeter said. "Hopefully when we get home we'll swing a little bit better. We're just not getting hits. Every season, it's the same thing. There's periods when you get a lot of hits and periods when you can't find a hit."

Jeter, particularly, has had trouble finding hits lately. He went 3-for-33 over the road trip, his batting average down to .269. Worst of all, the baseball had no trouble finding its way from Verlander's right hand to Jeter's left pinkie in the fifth inning, a potentially crushing blow to a team that has already suffered as many injuries as it did all last season.

"It's fine," Jeter said, but he didn't seem particularly jolly about it. When asked by a reporter how it felt to get hit with a 95 mph fastball, he said, "Go stand in that corner and I'll show you."

Perhaps the captain's testiness came from the realization that even though the Yankees are headed home, they are not necessarily safe. Friday night, the AL Central-leading Twins come in for three games, followed by two with the Red Sox and two with the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays, who continue to behave as if they think they can play .700 ball all season.

"I know we're playing a very tough Minnesota team that's playing extremely well," Joe Girardi said, "but I am really looking forward to going home."

And yet, the weekend rotation is unsettled -- A.J. Burnett gets the call on Friday, Andy Pettitte, in his return to action after missing a start with elbow soreness, goes Saturday -- but right now, Sergio Mitre looks like the best, and maybe only, choice to start on Sunday due to Tuesday's rainout that reshuffled the deck.

Unless, of course, the Yankees need long relief on Saturday, which might force Mitre into action.

"We gotta look at getting through the first two games of the series before we worry about Sunday," Girardi said. "Andy's had the arm issue the past two starts. We think he's fine but the intensity steps up on Saturday. I can't predict what's going to happen with my bullpen."

Nor could he have predicted what was going to happen to Sabathia (4-2), who for the second straight start fell victim to the home run ball, giving up back-to-back jacks in the fourth to Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch, both of whom feasted on Yankees pitching in the series.

"I felt pretty good at the beginning," Sabathia said. "Today was just one of those days when I kind of lost it."

He also got picked on by Gerald Laird, a career .244 hitter who turns into Babe Ruth when facing Sabathia. Laird's two hits and two RBIs, one of which came on a rocket double to the warning track in center, nearly 420 feet away, raised his career average against CC to .467 (7-for-15).

"I have no idea what his numbers are against me, but I know he gave me trouble when he was with Texas," Sabathia said. "I gave him a 3-2 changeup and he put a good swing on it. What can you do about that?"

About the same as the Yankees can do about their sudden lack of offense. Jeter is not alone in the nonproduction department. Alex Rodriguez took an 0-for-4 Thursday and is hitting .272 with just three home runs. Although he has shown signs of coming around, Mark Teixeira is still riding the interstate. Even Robinson Cano is in a bit of a slide, with just five hits in 24 at-bats on the road trip.

"Three and four on a road trip to Boston and Detroit, with terrible weather, terrible travel, getting here the first night at 4 a.m., that's not all that bad," Teixeira said. "Trips like these are gonna happen."

Said Girardi: "We didn't swing the bats very well in Detroit, but you're not always going to score five and six runs a night. Every team's going to go through funks where they don't score runs. You just gotta find ways to win those games."

Or, pray for rain.

NOTES: Burnett (4-1) faces left-hander Francisco Liriano (4-1) Friday night at the Stadium, Pettitte (4-0) draws right-hander Scott Baker (4-2) Saturday afternoon and whoever Girardi comes up with for Sunday matches up against righty Nick Blackburn (3-1).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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