Commentary

Small issues adding up for Yankees

A rough outing by the pitching staff was the latest of recent problems for the Bombers

Updated: May 8, 2011, 7:14 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The New York Yankees have played six games this week, in two cities, against two teams that were struggling when they arrived, and have lost four of them.

Perhaps it is of some comfort that in those four games, they found three different ways to lose, which would indicate there is not one recurring problem with this team, but a series of small ones that crop up from time to time.

In two of the games against the Detroit Tigers, it was their normally high-powered offense that let them down, when they scored a total of two runs in 18 innings. In the third game they lost in Motown, it was their fielding that let them down, with A.J. Burnett throwing one ball away to account for one run, and fill-in shortstop Eduardo Nunez throwing another one away to account for two more.

But in Saturday night's 7-5 loss at Rangers Ballpark, the Yankees found a way to lose they hadn't tapped into very much this season. This time, it was the starting pitching that let them down, in the form of Bartolo Colon, who until this game had gone from spring training joke to regular-season stud.

For the first time all season, Colon had nothing, and the Rangers had his number, scoring five runs in the first two innings, including two long home runs by Michael Young and David Murphy, putting this one nearly out of reach before it even began.

But it was what happened after Colon departed, after just 4 1/3 innings, that was truly disturbing. That was when Boone Logan, who is on the roster for one reason and one reason only -- because he throws with his left arm and, theoretically, is more adept than anyone in the bullpen at retiring left-handed hitters -- was utterly unable to do his job.

Logan faced six batters, and four of them scorched the ball. Three of those batters were lefties.

And then, to add insult to injury, Julio Borbon, the one lefty who did not hit the ball hard, laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to drive in the winning run just seconds after Joe Girardi had made a trip to the mound to remind his pitcher and infielders to be on guard for that very play.

[+] EnlargeBartolo Colon
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioBartolo Colon just didn't have it for the Yankees as he gave up five runs in the first two innings.

That may be one of the reasons why Girardi was short and snappish in the postgame interview -- he cut short a questioner who tried to point out the difficulty of defending against the squeeze when the first baseman had to hold a runner on, as Mark Teixeira did on the Borbon play, by demanding, "What would you suggest we do there?'' -- or there might be a deeper, even more disturbing reason.

If Logan, the only lefty arm in the bullpen, can no longer retire lefties, what are the Yankees' options?

"Well, that's why we have to get him going,'' Girardi said. "We have to get him going. We need him to pitch well for us the way he did last year. He's been off to a slow start, there's no doubt about it.''

Incredible as it may seem, the $200 million machine was brought down Saturday night by the equivalent of a teaspoonful of sugar in the gas tank of a Bentley.

Even the most offensively charged teams are occasionally not going to hit, and even starting pitchers as effective as Colon has been through the first month of the season are going to have off nights.

But when a seemingly minor cog in the machine, a Logan for instance, cannot perform his seemingly minor but highly specialized job effectively, the whole thing can come tumbling down.

"I don't want no one to give up on me,'' a dejected Logan said. "It's just a real minor detail that's kind of a big deal right now that I need to correct.''

The "minor detail'' is his out-pitch, the slider, which he says is "looping over the plate'' just waiting to be hit. And hit it was, and hard, first by Murphy, a lefty, who sent Nick Swisher on a sprint longer than Animal Kingdom's in the Kentucky Derby for the second out of the fifth inning after Logan came in to relieve Colon.

The next hitter, Yorvit Torrealba, laced a fastball, but right at Curtis Granderson to end the inning. It was merely a precursor of what was to come.

Left in to face three more lefties in the sixth, Mitch Moreland, Chris Davis and Borbon, Logan surrendered a double and a single, both hard-hit, before Girardi made his visit to the mound.

"You know they might try a safety squeeze or a squeeze,'' Girardi said. "And I went out there to remind Tex and Boonie to charge hard and try to get there.''

But forewarned was not forearmed, as Borbon's bunt between first and the pitcher's mound pulled Logan to the right, and Moreland, who hesitated in breaking for the plate, still scored easily.

"They laid down a perfect bunt and there was nothing we could do,'' Girardi said. "The only thing you can do there is guess and call for a pitchout.''

Which, of course, begs the question that if the Yankees knew what was coming, they wouldn't have been guessing. Why not call the pitchout?

After all, it was the second time the Yankees were victimized by the same play this season; the Blue Jays used it against them in Toronto on April 19.

But Girardi was in no mood for in-depth analysis by media after this one, and the matter was allowed to drop. Besides, after Girardi pulled Logan for David Robertson, and Robertson allowed an RBI single to Young -- who went 4-for-4 with a home run, a double, two singles and two RBIs -- for the seventh run, it probably no longer mattered.

What does matter is how the Yankees are going to match up against lefties, especially late in ballgames, if they can no longer trust Logan.

Suddenly, the season-ending injury to Damaso Marte and the disabling shoulder woes of new acquisition Pedro Feliciano, specifically signed this offseason to do the job that has suddenly become so difficult for Logan, loom as major potholes on the road to October baseball.

Girardi pointed out that his patience with other players who have struggled early in seasons, notably Teixeira and Granderson, eventually paid off for the Yankees. But he acknowledged that the case of Logan is different.

"They had a history to tell you they were going to get it done,'' Girardi said. "He does not have the track record the other guys have.''

The Yankees better hope he establishes that track record, and fast. They are 18-13, and still atop the AL East, if only by a handful of percentage points over the Tampa Bay Rays.

There is no reason to panic, but when your lefty specialist can no longer perform his specialty, there's plenty of cause for concern.

Notes

The Yankees' offense waged a valiant comeback, wiping out the five-run deficit Colon left them with four runs in the third, three on a bases-loaded triple by Robinson Cano, and tied the game on Swisher's 419-foot bomb into the right-field seats leading off the sixth. … Derek Jeter had two hits and barely missed his first home run of the season in the third, his drive striking the left-field fence about a foot shy of the top for a double. … Russell Martin had a rough night, accounting for six outs in four at-bats, with two double plays, a strikeout and a groundout. … Jorge Posada, dropped to eighth in the lineup, drew two walks but went hitless in the other two at-bats, and is now hitting .146. … Alex Rodriguez went hitless in three at-bats. His batting average is now .263. Jeter is hitting .256. … The Yankees are relying on CC Sabathia (2-2, 2.68) to keep a bad road trip (2-4 so far) from turning into a very bad road trip Sunday afternoon, facing Alexi Ogando (3-0, 2.17). First pitch is at 2:05 p.m.

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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