NEW YORK (AP) -- No wonder the rest of baseball is scared of the
New York Yankees: Their starting pitchers have stopped giving up
El Duque didn't make his first start until July 11.
Orlando Hernandez, not even guaranteed a starting spot at the
start of spring training, became the latest pitcher to make shutout
ball seem routine. El Duque allowed one hit in eight innings, Ron
Coomer homered in his first at-bat with the Yankees and New York
beat Wilson Alvarez in his return from a two-season layoff, topping
the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 3-0 Saturday. "He was the El Duque of old," Jason Giambi said. Since Roger Clemens was hit hard after taking a shot off his
pitching hand on opening day, starters David Wells, Mike Mussina,
Andy Pettitte and Hernandez have combined for 28 1-3 shutout
innings. The four-time defending AL champions have won four
straight since losing their opener, taking sole possession of first
in the AL East. They have three shutouts -- one-third of their 2001
total. "We feel pitching is our strong point, but what we've done we
can't expect to happen all the time," said Yankees manager Joe
Torre, who got his 1,480th career victory and tied Earl Weaver for
18th on the career list.
Giambi went 0-for-1 with two walks and a hit by pitch, dropping
to 2-for-17 (.118) with no RBI, but he did stir fans with a foul
upper-deck drive in the first. Unlike Friday, the fans at Yankee
Stadium didn't boo. Instead, they chanted "Let's go Jason!" when
he batted against Doug Creek, who hit him near the right shoulder
blade in the seventh.
Giambi was the designated hitter rather than the first baseman
on a blustery afternoon with a gametime temperature of 41. He was
pinch-run for by Gerald Williams later in the inning. "If I had stayed out there a little longer, I would have gotten
my ice in," Giambi joked. While waiting for Giambi, the Yankees don't have to wonder about
El Duque (1-0). Last year, he didn't get a win until Sept. 1,
slowed by arm and toe injuries. The 36-year-old right-hander, using
a big curveball and what Giambi called a "Bugs Bunny changeup,"
allowed just a one-out single to right by Toby Hall in the second. After a third-inning walk, he retired 15 in a row until Brent
Abernathy reached on second baseman Alfonso Soriano's throwing
error in the eighth. Hernandez, who struck out seven and walked one, arrived at
spring training competing with Wells and Sterling Hitchcock for a
starting spot and won it when Hitchcock got hurt. "El Duque was throwing the kitchen sink at us," Tampa Bay
manager Hal McRae said. "Fastballs, sliders, curveballs, change of
speeds, whatever he wanted to throw." Except for one spring training start against Kansas City,
Hernandez has felt fine this year. On Saturday, he dominated
batters like he did in 1998 and 1999, and Torre said El Duque will
remain in the rotation. "During spring training, I just mainly focused on doing my job,
not as much worrying about whether I would be one of the five,"
Hernandez said through a translator. Mariano Rivera entered to a standing ovation in his first Yankee
Stadium appearance since he wasted a 2-1, ninth-inning lead against
Arizona in Game 7 of the World Series and lost 3-2. He gave up two
hits, then with runners at the corners and one out, struck out Greg
Vaughn and Toby Hall for his third save. "He couldn't have been any tougher than El Duque," McRae said.
"I was glad to see him come in, and it isn't that often you say
that about Mariano Rivera." Alvarez was happy just to be back on the mound. He had surgery
on his left rotator cuff in May 2000 and he picked up right where
he left off -- with a loss to the Yankees. When Alvarez last
pitched, on Oct. 2, 1999, Chili Davis and Scott Brosius homered to
help David Cone win. All three have retired. The 32-year-old left-hander struggled with his control, throwing
just 52 of 100 pitches for strikes. He gave up three runs, five
hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings and struck out two _ Soriano
twice. "It can't be better than that, pitching here at Yankee
Stadium," Alvarez said. "I got excited. I wanted to strike
everybody out. I tried to overthrow. That's where I got into
trouble." Coomer, who beat out Luis Sojo during spring training for a
backup infield job, started at third while Robin Ventura got a day
off and lined a pitch into the left-field lower deck in the second.
Rookie Nick Johnson singled in a run in the fourth and Rondell
White had an RBI single on the first pitch after Jesus Colome
replaced Alvarez in the fifth. Coomer's mother and girlfriend were at the game. He became the
first player to homer in his first at-bat for the Yankees was
Glenallen Hill at Baltimore on July 24, 2000. "It's just a special place," Coomer said.
Kirk Douglas received cheers when he was introduced in the
middle of the third inning. ... Yankees RHP Ramiro Mendoza threw
one inning at extended spring training and is expected to be
activated Monday. ... Tampa Bay is 6-23 at Yankee Stadium, losing
11 of its last 12. ... Hernandez is 7-1 against the Devil Rays.