In loss, Javy finally looks like a winner

DETROIT -- That's more like it.

Javier Vazquez didn't win in probably his biggest start so far this season.

But Vazquez did the next best thing -- he pitched extremely well in the Yankees' 2-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Wednesday afternoon.

That's how bad things had gone for Vazquez. It wasn't just about winning. It was about being competitive.

Vazquez was that and more. And the Tigers were a good test for the struggling right-hander. The Tigers entered the game with the second-best team batting average (.278) in the American League behind the Yankees.

Making his first start since May 1, Vazquez blanked the Tigers with ease through the first five innings on just one hit. In all, Vazquez pitched a season-high seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits. He also struck out seven and walked just two.

"Javy pitched a good game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We didn't score any runs.

"Javy threw the ball great, very pleased with what he did."

On just about any other day with this Yankees team, Vazquez (1-4 with an 8.10 ERA) would have been the winning pitcher. "He gave us a chance to win," Girardi said. "He went out and competed for us."

Coming into Game 1 of a day-night doubleheader, Vazquez -- who gave up five runs on seven hits in three innings against the White Sox in his previous start -- had been the Yankees' resident punching bag.

And for good reason.

While the rest of the rotation was pitching in near-Cy Young form almost every time out, Vazquez was being knocked around. Only the callers on sports talk radio in the Big Apple were hitting him harder than opposing batters.

Vazquez was skipped from his normal turn Friday night in Boston. He was supposed to pitch on Monday. That got changed to Tuesday. That game was rained out. That's how he got to Wednesday afternoon.

"When you're a starting pitcher, you expect to go out there and do well," Vazquez said. "Obviously, the way I was struggling, I wanted to kind of go out there and throw a good game. Thank God I did."

Vazquez established his fastball. "I didn't see anything different in him today," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He was just executing his pitches. It was shame we didn't score any runs. If we get him some runs, he's going to win the game."

The Yankees, and their worrisome fans, can relax for a minute. Vazquez looked more like the Vazquez who had a 2.87 ERA for the Atlanta Braves in 2009.

In the end, Vazquez could make GM Brian Cashman look like a smart man. If Vazquez gets his act together, the Yankees will have enough pitching over the long course of the regular season and playoffs to repeat as champions.

Vazquez knows he isn't out of the woods. He knows there's still a lot of work to be done.

"In baseball it's funny," he said. "You might be doing great, then all of a sudden, one inning you might give up a five-spot or a four-spot.

"I was just concentrating on every pitch."

And it showed. Vazquez pitched from ahead, not behind. He was aggressive, in command most of the way. "Whenever you pitch better, you have better command," Girardi said. "He commanded the baseball well, all his pitches."

Even in his troublesome sixth inning, when he gave up the two runs, there were ground-ball hits that could have easily been outs. That's how close he came to giving up no runs at all.

"He's pitching extremely well," Derek Jeter said. "He went out there, threw strikes. He was ahead of guys."

Teammates took notice and were thrilled despite the loss. "I'm really happy for him," Posada said. "I'm always going to be in his corner. I care for the guy. He's a true professional who goes out there and doesn't make any excuses."

And even though the Yankees lost, Vazquez didn't have to make any for his performance.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.

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