Coming into last night’s start, Cliff Lee was 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA over his last six starts, half of which were complete games. In that span, he had struck out 44 men against just three walks and three homers. Given that Lee had dominated the Yankees the last time he came to the Bronx, there wasn’t much reason for optimism heading into Tuesday night’s series-opening tilt against Lee and the Mariners, I don’t care how pathetic the Mariners’ offense has been this season.
That Phil Hughes lacked his good stuff pitching on extra rest after being skipped the last time through the rotation sealed the deal. Hughes fastball topped out around 91 miles per hour and his location wasn’t sharp. As a result, the Mariners were able to build a picket fence against him with runs in the second, third, fourth, and fifth, before delivering the finishing blow with a three-run sixth as Hughes seemed to lose it around 90 pitches. Boone Logan and Chan Ho Park held the line from there, but when the line is a 7-1 deficit against Cliff Lee and the opposing offense is the worst in the American League, who cares?
Through the first eight innings, all the Yankees managed against Lee was a pair of solo homers by Nick Swisher. Hitting a pair of right-handed home runs off a pitcher who had allowed just three dingers in his last six starts isn’t impressive, particularly when those were just Swisher’s second and third right-handed home runs of the year, but the rest of the offense didn’t show up until the ninth.
Just one other Yankee made it as far as second base in the first eight innings (Jorge Posada following a one-out walk in the second, the only walk Lee has issued in his last five starts), and no more than one Yankee reached base in any of the first eight innings of the game. Swisher’s two home runs came in the first and the sixth, and after the second, Lee retired the next nine men he faced until Mark Teixeira led off the ninth with a double down the left-field line. A Robinson Cano single, Michael Saunders throwing error, and Posada ground-rule double got the Yankees to within 7-4, but it took Lee just three more pitches to retire Curtis Granderson (who did have a pair of singles earlier in the game and was the only Yankee other than Swisher with a multi-hit night) and Chad Huffman (who started for the injured Brett Gardner) to nail down his third-straight complete game victory.
While Hughes season-worst outing was somewhat reminiscent of Joba Chamberlain’s struggles after the Yankees started skipping his starts last year, Hughes didn’t blame the rest for his poor performance, and he didn’t really get lit up until the sixth. He’ll stay on-turn until the All-Star break as the Yankees have no off-days in the next two weeks. His next start comes on Sunday at home against the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, here’s hoping Cliff Lee gets traded back to the National League, just don’t get your hopes up about him coming to the Bronx, the Yankees made clear their unwillingness to trade prospects for a pending big-money free agent such as Lee by letting CC Sabathia go to the Brewers and Johan Santana go to the Mets.
In other news, Dave Eiland returned to the team and Gardner could be out for a few days with a wrist contusion after being hit by a Clayton Kershaw pitch on Sunday. Meanwhile, Marcus Thames is expected to start at designated hitter for Triple-A Scranton on Wednesday, meaning he could be activated from the disabled list soon.