Commentary

Don't let this Toronto laugher fool you

Yanks win big, but can Moseley and Nova be this tough against the Rays and Red Sox?

Updated: August 25, 2010, 12:22 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TORONTO -- On nights like Tuesday, when no pitcher on the other team can seem to get anyone out and the Rogers Centre is playing more like the HomerDome, it is easy to overlook the hard facts about what lies ahead for the Yankees:

One reliably good start by CC Sabathia every five days, followed by the erratic (A.J. Burnett), the limited (Phil Hughes) and the untested (Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova).

At some point, Andy Pettitte will come back from the groin injury that has had him on the disabled list since July 20, although until he throws a bullpen session Friday, no one knows when that point will be.

[+] EnlargeDustin Moseley
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireDustin Moseley improved to 4-2 with six innings of two-run ball Tuesday night in Toronto.

And if anyone had told you at the start of spring training, or the start of this month, for that matter, that the Yankees would head into late August tied in the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays while relying on a rotation composed 60 percent of pitchers who had never been full-time major league starters before this season, you probably would have needed the Heimlich maneuver as you choked on your New York Yankee Steak.

As no less an authority than Jorge Posada said, even on a night in which he had four hits, including a home run, "It's all about the pitching, really."

But here we are, in the final week of August, and there they are, the starting rotation of the defending World Series champions, and how many of them do you absolutely, completely trust on any given night?

Tuesday night, it was easy to trust Moseley, considering the Yankees' hitters were munching on Blue Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski as if he were one of the succulent spicy sausages sold outside the ballpark. Over the first five innings, five of them had hit home runs, even Derek Jeter, whose last dinger came back when Pettitte still believed he would be good to go in three weeks. And that one never left the ballpark.

The result was completely predictable, considering that three of the starters in the Yankees' lineup -- Jeter, Robinson Cano and especially Nick Swisher -- loved hitting off Rzepczynski almost as much as they love payday.

Jeter came in batting .600 off him (3-for-5 with a HR), Cano .400 (2-for-5 with a 2B and HR) and Swisher a ridiculous .750 (3-for-4 with a HR). By the time Rzepczynski was gone -- after only three innings -- even Mark Teixeira, who had only one hit off him in five career at-bats, had improved to .427 with two RBIs and a monstrous home run, one of three the Yankees hit in the third inning.

It was a night in which it was so easy to hit that Swisher, who had to leave the game in mid-at-bat after fouling a pitch off his left knee in the seventh, was mock outraged at Brett Gardner, who came in to replace him with a 2-2 count and promptly went down looking.

"The one time in your life you've got a free swing, and you [bleeping] take?" Swisher said, doing comically incredulous as only he can.

So run support was never a problem in this game, because there was plenty, nor was the effect of pressure on a relatively inexperienced pitcher, because there was none. The Yankees won a laugher, 11-5, a game that ceased to be competitive or remotely entertaining after the fifth inning, when they opened up a 10-1 lead. The only reason it became that close is because Chad Gaudin, Mop-Up Man, came into the game in the seventh inning to create some interest.

But what happens when the games get a little tougher, the opposing pitchers a little better, the collars a little snugger? Moseley pitched well enough to win with a nine-run lead, but you have to wonder if he would have gotten by against the Rays or even the Red Sox throwing roughly one ball for every strike -- 47 and 50 in his six innings of work?

"I got behind in a few counts tonight,'' Moseley said. "But getting a lead like we got tonight makes it a little easier.''

And as good as Nova looked Monday night -- good enough for Joe Girardi, Dave Eiland, Brian Cashman and whoever else has his or her fingers in the Yankees' fortunes this season to exile Javier Vazquez to the bullpen indefinitely -- he still has just 8 1/3 innings of major league experience on his résumé.

Sure, Nova looked tough against the Blue Jays, staring down a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first and standing up to an agitated Jose Bautista in the sixth, but how will he do in a game against the Rays, say, in late September with first place on the line?

These are the questions you'd rather not ponder right now, and questions the Yankees never could have conceived of when they mapped out their $200 million roster last winter.

Baseball people like to say you can never have too much pitching and this season, the Yankees are proving not even they can buy enough.

As starting pitchers, the combined records of Hughes, Moseley and Nova are a respectable 31-20, but 23 of those wins are from Hughes. And the sum total of postseason experience from the three of them is 13 innings, 12 of them by Hughes, who has an October ERA of 5.25.

It's as pointless to ask "How did this happen?" as it is to speculate about what it will mean if Pettitte doesn't come back, and strong, in time for the stretch run.

But suffice it so say that this is not the way the Yankees planned to defend their title and not the way they would choose to go into the final rounds of what is shaping up as a championship bout for control of the division.

Staked to a nine-run lead and facing a powerful team with not much left to play for, Dustin Moseley looked good enough to get the job done for the Yankees Tuesday night. Chances are, Nova will look the same against the similarly hopeless Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

But September and October are looming, and the Rays and Red Sox refuse to go away.

At that point, it will take more than a leap of faith to believe that the Yankees, who always seem to have too much of everything, will have enough pitching to see them through.

GAME NOTES: Teixeira's four-hit game was his first since July 11 at Seattle. Posada's was his first since Sept. 3, 2009, right here in Toronto. And Jeter's home run was his first since July 22, an inside-the-park job at Yankee Stadium against Kansas City, a stretch of 128 at-bats. The last time he hit a baseball out of a ballpark was June 9, when he hit two in the Bronx against the Houston Astros. That was 250 at-bats ago. ... Swisher left the clubhouse with his knee tightly bandaged but vowed to come to the park ready to play on Wednesday. "That first step out of bed tomorrow should be interesting," he said. ... Ready for more bad pitching news? Alfredo Aceves, in the midst of the longest rehab assignment in baseball history, pitched 1 1/3 innings for AA Trenton Tuesday night. He allowed six hits, five of them doubles, three runs, and struck out no one. ... Gaudin had his problems again, allowing four hits and three runs in two innings of work, but Kerry Wood continues to impress, pitching a perfect ninth with two strikeouts. ... The Yankees kept Bautista, Monday's hero, in the ballpark, holding the league's leading home run hitter to a single in two official at-bats, plus two walks. ... Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson also homered for the Yankees, and aside from being a three-run bomb, Granderson's shot was especially impressive because it came off a lefty, Brian Tallet. ... Wednesday's pitching matchup: Hughes (15-5, 3.90) vs. LHP Brett Cecil (10-6, 3.90). First pitch, 7:07 p.m.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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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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