The Yankees won the rubber match of their series against Toronto last night, posting a 3-2 victory. Even though the team was outscored in the series, New York is 2-1 as a result of a pair of 3-2 wins.
Phil Hughes delivered big time in his first start of the season. The righty sophomore gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings. Hughes threw only 87 pitches. He toyed with Toronto hitters while registering 4 strikeouts. This kind of dominant performance has to give the team a lot of hope early in the year. After entering last season with a ton of hype and pressure, Hughes might have more on him this year as the Yankees were hesitant to trade him for Johan Santana. Given his fantastic finish to 2007 after he finally got healthy in September and his reunion with old mentor, Dave Eiland, the Yanks need Phil to deliver big things this year. Though Chien-Ming Wang is statistically one of the game’s top pitchers, this team lacks a true shutdown starter, the kind of guy Joe Girardi can feel confident throwing against Josh Beckett in a big game. Hughes is the one guy in the rotation with the talent to potentially be that guy. If he can make the leap, Chien-Ming Wang instantly becomes an elite number 2, and Andy Pettitte becomes an elite number 3 starter. This team has enough offense to stay in contention until the end of the regular season, but Hughes will be a huge key to October success.
Brian Bruney got out the only two hitters he faced. Bruney entered camp in better shape this year and seemed to have a major attitude adjustment. Whenever a team changes a manager or coach, there seem to be a few players who view it as a fresh start. These players for whatever reason do not put in optimal effort under the former boss but have something click when they realize problems with the second guy probably will buy a ticket out of town. Brian will be one of the keys to the bullpen depth this season. Despite the nice line in the box score and the encouraging spring, this was a troubling outing. Bruney has always had the pure stuff. His issue has been control. Only 5 of his 10 pitches went for strikes last night. It is too early to write him off, but it sure would have been nice to see some tangible sign of improvement.
The Yankees broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 8th. After a Melky Cabrera single and a pair of bunts, Bobby Abreu dropped a game-winning hit in front of Vernon Wells. Abreu ended the series 5 for 10. A lot of the team’s slow start in 2007 is traceable to a monumental slump Bobby had in April and May. He is one of the most productive third hitters in the game, considering his eye and his RBI numbers. Him getting off to a fast start in a contract year is an encouraging sign he will not be plagued by the same issues in 2008.
Joe Girardi has finished his first successful series with the Yankees. Now the improved Tampa Bay Rays come to town for a four game series. If the first series is any indication, the Yankees are going to have their hands full with the AL East this season. Only Baltimore appears to be a pushover. Any series wins are a major success.