Commentary

Yankees checked out early vs. Rays

This kind of performance might be acceptable in August -- but certainly not in April

Updated: April 8, 2012, 7:28 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This was the kind of game you might expect to see on a Sunday afternoon in August, but certainly not in April.

Put a stamp on this one, because the New York Yankees played a classic getaway-day game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, losing 3-0. But they can't get away from this reality -- after their lost weekend at The Trop, they are an 0-3 team needing a sweep at the next stop, Baltimore, in order to return to the Bronx for their home opener at .500.

It wasn't the pitching this time, and it wasn't the manager. It wasn't even the shift. It was, pure and simple, a total team malaise of the type that seems to set in deep in the second half of a long season, when guys are more concerned about getting to the airport than home plate.

In fact, the only shift that really mattered this week was the apparent shift of power in the AL East. Judging from an admittedly small sample, the Rays looked like the team to beat in the division. The Yankees, on the other hand, simply looked beat.

Against Jeremy Hellickson, the Yankees hit like they had a plane to catch, managing three doubles -- by Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez -- and nothing else. As a result, Hellickson came within an out of throwing a complete-game shutout, Rays manager Joe Maddon coming out to collect him after he walked Swisher with two out in the ninth.

Yankees
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe Yankees looked old and beat this weekend -- not a good way to start the season.

Hellickson had thrown 118 pitches and closer Fernando Rodney needed just four more to retire Raul Ibanez on a comebacker for the final out.

"We've all been through three-game losing streaks but because it's the beginning of the year it seems to be magnified a bit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But this is a very resilient club and we'll be fine."

Probably true.

Summing up the weekend, Rodriguez said, "Everything they did worked out perfectly and everything we did worked out imperfectly."

Definitely true.

Then, he added, "You definitely have a sense of urgency."

If so, the Yankees didn't show it on Sunday.

For sure, they hit some balls hard, in particular a line drive by Raul Ibanez that Desmond Jennings ran down in deep center with runners on second and third in the fourth inning.

But that, incredibly, was the Yankees' last real threat of the game. Girardi can talk all he wants about "quality at-bats'' and "guys lining out,'' but the reality is the Yankees got only three more baserunners on after that fourth-inning threat: A-Rod's double followed by a walk to Teixeira, both of whom were left stranded when Swisher struck out swinging, and a walk to Swisher in the ninth.

Five of their last six outs were groundouts, and when Jeff Keppinger hit a home run off Boone Logan in the sixth, the game felt as though it was over even though the Yankees trailed by only three runs.

"As frustrating as it is, it's way too early to get frustrated," said Swisher, who stranded three runners in scoring position. "It's just kind of one hit here, one hit there, maybe it starts a rally. I feel like we are swinging the bats well as a group. We just didn't put any runs on the board today. They put it on us, so we'll remember that."

The Yankees got a good enough performance out of Phil Hughes, who held the Rays to two runs but couldn't make it out of the fifth inning due to a high pitch count. His velocity was up to 94 mph at times and he mixed in an effective changeup to notch five strikeouts.

Logan, in his first appearance of the season after suffering back spasms in the final week of spring training, got a big strikeout of Matt Joyce to end the fifth with two runners on, and got two quick outs in the sixth before leaving a fastball out over the plate to Keppinger.

Cory Wade pitched a solid inning and the most impressive of all was David Phelps, thrust into a one-out, two-runners-on situation in the eighth, got a strikeout and a groundout in his first big-league appearance.

"It's still 60 feet, 6 inches, right?" Phelps said. "It just means that much more because it's the regular season. Things really count now. You want to go out there and make a good first impression, hopefully carry that over." He did. It was his more experienced teammates who turned this Easter Sunday into a letdown.

"This is probably not the only three-game losing streak we're going to have all season," Teixeira said. "It's only April." Exactly. Way too early to panic.

And also way too early to start mailing it in.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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