- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- When Javier Vazquez said he had "good movement," it may have been the best piece of news the Yankees received Friday night.
They already knew he had good movement on his pitches, of course; he had demonstrated that for six innings of one-hit ball against the Mets. The movement Vazquez was referring to was in his right index finger, the one that somehow found itself between the baseball and the bat, a position not recommended for the continued good health of any baseball player, never mind a right-handed starting pitcher.
"I feel so embarrassed because I['ve] been doing this for a lot of years in the National League, and this has never happened to me," Vazquez said, displaying a finger wrapped only in a Band-Aid. "I grabbed the bat where I usually do, near the barrel but towards the skinny part and the ball just hit me. I feel bad because this has never happened before."
There was nothing for Vazquez to feel bad about concerning Friday night, neither on the mound nor at the plate, where in addition to laying down two flawless sacrifice bunts, he also hung tough for seven pitches against Mets starter Hisanori Takahashi before hitting a respectable lineout to right.
What there is to be concerned about is what happens to Vazquez next. Friday night, he turned in his third straight outstanding performance, shutting down the Mets in what would turn out to be a 2-1 Yankees victory in the opener of a three-game Subway Series in Flushing.
Now, no one can say for sure when he will pitch next, only this time, it is not because of something he did on the mound, but because of something that happened to him at the plate. On Vazquez's third plate appearance, and second bunt attempt, he fouled off an Elmer Dessens pitch that caught him just above the nail of his index finger.
No matter that according to the Citi Field radar gun, it was a changeup clocked at a mere 86 mph. It hurt like the dickens and when, a pitch later, having successfully laid down a bunt that moved Kevin Russo from second to third, Vazquez removed his batting glove, he found it stained with blood.
"That's when I said, 'Damn, that's not good,'" said Vazquez, who immediately headed down the steps to the clubhouse with assistant trainer Steve Donahue examining the finger. He was sent for X-rays, which came back negative.
According to Vazquez, he was able to move the finger freely and able to exert adequate pressure in various tests of strength.
Still, as Joe Girardi said, "We won't really know for a couple of days."
Injuries like the one Vazquez sustained tend to worsen overnight, and no one can tell what it is going to feel like the next time Vazquez tries to grip a ball or throw it.
"My guess is it's going to be pretty sore tomorrow," Girardi said. "The good thing is he's got an extra day, so maybe that will be enough."
Suddenly, the loss of Javier Vazquez from the Yankees' rotation would be a bad thing, following a seven-inning, two-run performance in Detroit 10 days ago and a pivotal relief appearance against the Red Sox on Monday night, when he came on in the ninth inning of a one-run game and struck out Kevin Youkilis, and got the win when the Yankees came back to score four runs in the bottom of the frame.
Added to the way he pitched against the Mets, nobody is talking about skipping Vazquez's turn in the rotation anymore, at least not willingly.
"His last three times out he threw the ball very well for us," Girardi said. "It looks like he's getting his stuff back and he's locating again."
Clearly, Vazquez (3-4, 6.69 ERA) is on a positive roll, and the last thing anyone wants to do is interrupt it because of an injury.
"It's important for me [not to miss a start] because as a starting pitcher, you want to get into a routine of pitching every five days," he said. "It's frustrating a little bit."
Vazquez, who had trouble earlier in the season pitching out of the stretch, avoided that problem Friday night by not allowing a hit for the first 4 1/3 innings. He struck out four Mets in the first two innings and generally thrived against a relatively punchless lineup that featured three hitters batting .225 or less, plus a pitcher.
But the Yankees weren't doing much more against Takahashi, an emergency starter making his first major league start because of the ineffectiveness of Oliver Perez. Twice in the first four innings the Yankees had runners at second and third and failed to get a run home; a third time, they stranded a runner at second.
It wasn't until Mets second baseman Alex Cora flipped away what looked like a sure double-play ball in the seventh, leaving runners at second and third with none out, that the Yankees finally got on the board thanks to Russo's two-run double to right.
That was all either team could manage until Mariano Rivera, riding out one of the rare rough spots in his storied career, allowed the Mets a ninth-inning run on back-to-back doubles by Jason Bay and Ike Davis.
"Just bad location," Girardi said. "The velocity's there, so I'm not concerned. His control's usually pinpoint and it just hasn't been the last few times out."
But the real story of the night was Vazquez, both his continued rebirth and possible sidelining because of a freak injury. But it's been that kind of a week, what with Jorge Posada going on the DL with a hairline fracture in his foot and Marcus Thames rolling an ankle by tripping over his bat.
"I'm hopeful that Javy will be able to make his next start," Girardi said. "I'll be frustrated for him if he can't, but it will be just one more thing we have to deal with. At least it's not broken. That's a big plus for us."
Best of all, he had good movement. On the ball, and on his finger.
GAME NOTES: It was a night of firsts for Russo, called up from Scranton on Thursday. His third-inning single was his first major league hit, and his double gave him his first two RBIs. He also made his first major league start in the outfield, and wouldn't you know it, fielded the first ball of the bottom of the first inning, a hard-hit line drive off the bat of Jose Reyes. He handled two other outfield chances flawlessly before being replaced by Randy Winn in the seventh. ... The win was the Yankees' fifth straight in the Subway Series. They are 4-0 at Citi Field. ... Saturday's pitching matchup is Phil Hughes (5-0, 2.25) versus Mike Pelfrey (5-1, 3.02), with first pitch at 7:10 p.m.
23hInterview by Buster Olney
16hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com