Javier Vazquez finally gets his turn

NEW YORK -- Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez is finally going to make his first start of the season versus the Boston Red Sox.

It was supposed to happen three months ago on May 7, the first game of a three-game set in Boston. But Vazquez had a rocky beginning to the 2010 season -- after five starts, he was 1-3 with an eye-popping 9.78 ERA.

So with a day off before that Red Sox series, Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to skip Vazquez's turn in the rotation, worried that he would be shelled by the dangerous Red Sox lineup at Fenway Park.

"That April was a tough month," Vazquez recalled before Wednesday's game versus the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees had another off day Thursday before beginning a four-game series with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. But this time around, Girardi isn't skipping Vazquez -- he'll start Friday night, opposed by Clay Buchholz.

The reason? Vazquez has turned around his season since that point in early May. In that time, he's gone 8-4 with a 3.29 ERA, lifting his overall numbers to a respectable 9-7 record and 4.61 ERA.

Vazquez previously pitched for the Yankees in 2004 before becoming part of the package traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. Despite giving up an infamous grand slam to Johnny Damon in the final game of the ALCS, Vazquez said he never wanted to leave New York and was thrilled to be dealt back to the Yankees by the Atlanta Braves after the 2009 season.

His excitement to be back, coupled with eagerness to prove he could do better his second time around in the Big Apple, likely had a lot to do with his early-season struggles.

"I was overthrowing," Vazquez said. "I was trying to do too much."

Many pitchers would look back at getting skipped in the rotation as a negative, but not Vazquez. In fact, he said it was a blessing and that he felt more like himself in his following start, May 12 versus the Detroit Tigers.

"The way my mind was at that time, it helped me relax," Vazquez said.

The Yankees cannot relax, though, despite having the best record in baseball (67-40). They've lost their past two series, dropping into a virtual dead heat with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox are currently 6½ games back -- a sizable gap, but one that could be significantly diminished in a four-game series.

The Red Sox have been decimated by injuries this season. They just got back outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on Wednesday -- he'd been out since May 29 with broken ribs. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, a former American League MVP, has been on the disabled list since June 26 with a fractured foot. Two-time All-Star first baseman Kevin Youkilis was placed on the DL on Tuesday with a torn muscle in his thumb.

Nonetheless, the Red Sox are 61-47, 14 games above .500.

"I think they've dealt with it [well]," Girardi said Wednesday. "They've had a number of injuries to key players. Their rotation has continued to pitch well. They've continued to stay in it with all these injuries."

It's been a long time since the Yankees and Red Sox met up -- a two-game split in the Bronx on May 17 and 18. Vazquez did pitch in that series, in relief. He threw just a third of an inning but ended up being credited with the win in an 11-9 Yankees victory.
Vazquez said he is hoping for a much longer outing Friday night, but with the same result.

"I'm looking forward to the start," Vazquez said. "I feel I'm ready for it."

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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