Yankees are in survival mode now

BALTIMORE -- A franchise built on championships now is forced to evaluate itself based on avoiding doctor visits.

Not once, not twice, but three times, Hiroki Kuroda -- in the wake of another Yankees loss -- brought up his health as the best part of his first half, and his goal for his second.

You can hardly blame the 39-year-old, because he is the lone survivor of the Yankees' Opening Day rotation. On Friday, the Yankees wasted Kuroda's seven strong innings because the offense is so weak, unable to give him the minimal support he needed. That leaves the Yanks on the brink of falling so far behind in the AL East that by Sunday night it could be nearly unimaginable they could come back.

Do you really think the Yankees can play seven games better than anyone in the second half, let alone the Orioles?

Already five games back, the Yankees will send out Shane Greene for his second career start on Saturday, with a starter yet to be determined for the bright lights of "Sunday Night Baseball."

There are no must-wins in July, but the .500 Yankees (46-46) need to take one, and maybe both, of these games to have any semblance of a good feeling going into the All-Star break.

It is not what you want, as the manager is wont to say.

Joe Girardi pinned Friday's loss squarely on the fourth inning. It is a pretty good place to start, because it highlights the Yankees' lack of hitting, especially in the clutch. Against Miguel Gonzalez, who entered with a 4.29 ERA, Brian McCann singled, and an out later Ichiro Suzuki doubled. Yangervis Solarte and Kelly Johnson flew out, and no one scored.

The Yankees were still up 2-0 because Brian Roberts -- in perhaps the second-biggest homecoming story of the day -- hit a solo shot in the second inning on the first pitch he saw as a visitor at Camden Yards. In the third inning, Johnson did the same.

So the failure to score in the fourth inning came with the cushion of a lead.

In the bottom half of that inning, Kuroda became wild and Derek Jeter admittedly failed his pitcher. Kuroda hit the leadoff batter. Next, the single off Adam Jones' bat should have been an error -- it bounded slowly up the middle and Jeter got his glove on it.

"I didn't help him out," Jeter said.

The ball took a late hop that was a bit more elevated than Jeter anticipated. It bounced as Jeter peaked at Steve Pearce's progress from first to second base.

"That is a bad combination," Jeter said. "That play needs to be made; especially when you are playing a team like Baltimore, that play needs to be made."

Kuroda went on to throw two wild pitches. One scored a run. The other moved Jones to third base, setting up a Chris Davis sacrifice fly. The Orioles tied it at 2, so when Kuroda turned the ball over to the dominant Dellin Betances in the eighth inning, the game was still deadlocked, instead of the Yankees having a lead.

"That's the difference in the game," Girardi said of the fourth inning.

In the final six innings, the Yankees had only one more hit, a McCann single in the ninth. While Betances, the All-Star, did his job, Adam Warren lost it in the 10th, giving up a leadoff double to Manny Machado and a game-winning single to Nick Hundley.

Girardi's postgame news conference was brief, because how many times can reporters ask him why his team can't hit?

Kuroda went on a little longer, answering questions about his first half, in which he finished 6-6 with a 4.10 ERA.

"The good part is the fact I was able to stay healthy," Kuroda said. "There were good outings and bad outings during the course of the first half. So the good part was I stayed healthy."

And what is he looking for in the second half?

"I want to make sure I stay healthy and stay in the rotation the rest of the year," Kuroda said.

That's it. The Yankees are just trying to survive now.