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Friday, June 18, 2010
Updated: June 19, 5:52 PM ET
Slumping Yanks continue hit charade

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The numbers are getting ugly: Three runs and five hits on Wednesday night. One run and four hits on Thursday. Five hits, but no runs and 11 left on base on Friday.

Three straight losses to pitchers a team like the Yankees are not supposed to lose to, let alone struggle against. A series loss at home to the Philadelphia Phillies, and now a Subway Series-opening loss to the crosstown rival Mets with their two best pitchers, Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana, sitting back and, no doubt, licking their chops.

Right now, the Yankees couldn't hit the ground if they fell out a window. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, representing $73 million worth of salary, combined for one hit in 10 at-bats Wednesday, one hit in 11 at-bats Thursday, and two hits in 13 at-bats in Friday night's 4-0 loss to the Mets.

Between them, they stranded seven runners Friday night and, along with some help from their friends, went 0-for-3 with the bases loaded, most notably in the ninth inning, when the game was ripe to be taken back from the Mets bullpen.

Derek Jeter
Jeter couldn't check his swing on this ninth-inning strikeout, helping to snuff out a potential rally.

But the numbers tell only part of the story, and a small part at that.

Whatever happened to the Yankees' vaunted "approach" at the plate, the patience and selectivity that worked opposing pitchers to exhaustion and drove Joe West to distraction?

The Yankees are not hitting; everyone, from the players to the manager to the hitting coach, agrees on that.

But it is the way that they are not hitting that is most disturbing.

Case in point was the aforementioned ninth inning, when the Yankees, trailing 4-0, managed to mount a last-ditch threat against Raul Valdes -- who allowed singles to Francisco Cervelli and Curtis Granderson -- and Francisco Rodriguez, who lost a 12-pitch struggle with Brett Gardner to load the bases with one out.

The Stadium, full to capacity for one of the few times this season, was rocking from both sides, Yankees fans in anticipation, Mets fans in trepidation. Jeter was coming up, followed by Nick Swisher.

Whatever was about to happen, it wasn't going to go down easy.

Or was it?

Three pitches later, Jeter had struck out, the last strike coming on a check swing on a curveball at his feet. And Swisher, known for being a painfully patient hitter, hacked at the first thing he saw and popped out to David Wright in foul territory.

Threat over. Ballgame over. Yankees lose. Thaaaaaaa Yankees loooose.

For the past three games, the Yankees have been home, but the Bronx Bombers have been MIA. Wednesday, they were shut down by 47-year-old Jamie Moyer. Thursday, they were helpless against Kyle Kendrick, who came in with an ERA just under 5 runs per game. Friday, it was Hisanori Takahashi, a 35-year-old Japanese rookie with all of 60 major league innings on his résumé and no pitch that tops 90 mph in his repertoire.

Just a month ago, Takahashi held the Yankees scoreless on five hits over six innings at Citi Field, but the Yankees won that night because they were able to scratch out two runs.

Friday, Takahashi threw virtually the same game, with essentially the same results, meaning the Yankees -- who acknowledge their difficulty with pitchers they have never seen before but pride themselves on their ability to make adjustments -- made no adjustments the second time they saw Takahashi. If anything, they did worse in the rematch.

"He pretty much did what he did the first time around," said Jeter, who broke an 0-for-16 slide with a third-inning infield hit but went hitless in his last three at-bats, including that devastating strikeout.

"He was pretty predictable," said Alex Rodriguez, who had a golden opportunity to make a difference in the sixth, when the Mets led only 1-0, but tapped out weakly to first with two men on base.

So why couldn't the Yankees make the necessary adjustments? For that, we consult Kevin Long, hitting coach extraordinaire, for whom adjustments are a specialty and plate discipline a hallmark.

"Actually, it wasn't that bad," Long said. "I'll go through the lineup: Jeet had a tough day. Swisher had a couple of nice at-bats. Tex just missed two home runs. Alex had a decent at-bat. [Robinson] Cano just missed a couple of balls. [Jorge] Posada had three line drives. Cervelli had three."

By the time Long finished, you would have thought the Yankees' offense actually hit like Murderer's Row on Friday night. But who are you going to believe? A hitting coach or your own eyes? Or the scoreboard?

So feeble was the Yankees' offense that Mets manager Jerry Manuel left Pedro Feliciano, who normally specializes in retiring lefties, in to face A-Rod, once one of the most feared right-handed hitters in the history of the game, in the eighth inning. Of course, Feliciano struck him out. Looking. But then, the way the Yankees have been hitting, Jose Feliciano would have struck out A-Rod.

At least manager Joe Girardi paid lip service to the obvious reality that his hitters are not only not hitting, but not hitting they way are supposed to hit.

"Look, we're not swinging the bats they way we know how to right now," he said. "Call it frustration, call it chapped, call it anything you want, but you can't jump off the bridge when you lose a couple of games in a row. This is a long season, and we have to look at the big picture. We're 41-26. We're tied for first place. These guys will come around."

In a sense, he is right. When you take a step back from the immediate, what has happened the last three games is a small peek into what will be a much larger and more detailed picture come October.

And yet, there was little to encourage you on Friday that things would turn around anytime soon, not when you recall the sight of Jeter lunging at the first pitch in three at-bats, or Teixeira continuing to wallow in the .220s, or A-Rod, who insists his sore hip is fine, swinging weakly and hitting feebly.

Even Cano, the major leagues' leading hitter, had a horrible night, fouling out in his first two at-bats.

"It's very frustrating," Rodriguez said. "We have to do a better job of scoring runs and getting big hits. We know exactly what were capable of doing, and [Saturday] would be a great day to start."

Friday would have been a whole lot better.

GAME NOTES: Rodriguez played his first game at third since leaving a game in Baltimore after one inning last Thursday with pain in his right hip, but Girardi said A-Rod would probably DH on Saturday. Said Rodriguez: "Whatever skip says." ... Skip was likely to have a chat with Swisher, who foolishly tagged up from first to second on Teixeira's fly out to left in the eighth, and would have been out if Ruben Tejada hadn't muffed the throw from Jason Bay. "You have to be able to stand up on that play, basically," Girardi said. "Sometimes guys try to make things happen when you're not scoring runs, and when they do, sometimes they make mistakes." ... The Yankees wasted another strong outing by Javy Vazquez, who took the loss despite going seven innings for the fourth consecutive outing; he held the Mets to one run on three hits ... Saturday's matchup, Phil Hughes (9-1, 3.11) vs. Pelfrey (9-1, 2.39), is a rematch of a game played May 22 at Citi Field, won 5-3 by the Mets and Pelfrey.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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