Yankees' season off to horrible start

DETROIT -- This is how bad things have gotten for the Yankees just five games into their season:

Instead of waiting for Derek Jeter to come back, we are now wondering how long it will take for Eduardo Nunez to return to shortstop.

This is how bad things have gotten for the Yankees just five games into their season:

Every time Boone Logan comes in to pitch, we find ourselves wishing Clay Rapada was still around.

This is how bad things have gotten for the Yankees just five games into their season:

Every time Joba Chamberlain comes in to pitch, we find ourselves wondering who David Aardsma must have ticked off to get himself released.

And this is how bad things have gotten for the Yankees just five games into their season:

If they can't manage to beat Justin Verlander Sunday afternoon, they will not only be swept by the Tigers, they will head into Cleveland with a 1-5 record, their worst start since the one sustained by the 1989 team that won just 74 games and finished fifth in a seven-team AL East division.

All through spring training, the Yankees offense looked sluggish, and its pitchers looked suspect, but you kept thinking that once the regular season started and Joe Girardi settled on an everyday lineup, things would be OK.

You thought this for two reasons: the history of this franchise, and the (presumed) strength of the pitching staff.

But less than a week into the new season, it has become obvious that history will not help this team win and in fact might be working against it, since no one inside or outside the organization seemed willing to believe that what they were seeing in March could actually carry over into April, and beyond.

Hard as it might be to believe, the team we are seeing now is pretty much the same one we saw in spring training, minus young sparkplugs such as Ronnier Mustelier, Melky Mesa and Slade Heathcott, who were deemed too green to be of much help once the games became real.

And as for the pitching, the numbers tell the story: five starts, four defeats, and only one starting pitcher -- Andy Pettitte, the oldest of the bunch -- able to get beyond the fifth inning. Forty-three innings pitched, 61 hits allowed, plus 21 walks, only one of which was intentional. Add in three hit batters and Yankee pitchers have allowed 85 baserunners, or an average of about two per inning.

And the team ERA is now an unsightly 6.49.

Remove Pettitte's excellent eight-inning, one run start from the total, and it soars to 7.71.

Remove all the starters from the mix, and the bullpen's ERA stands at 8.16.

And we all thought a lack of hitting was going to be the problem this year.

"We definitely need to get it turned around. There's no doubt about that,'' Joe Girardi said of his bullpen.
"We need to get these guys throwing well and steady work and have them come in and do their job. In the short term, it's been somewhat of a struggle, but I have a lot of confidence in these guys.''

And the pen, aside from David Robertson and Adam Warren, has been awful (even Mariano Rivera allowed a run in his only inning of work so far this season). But the truth is, less than a week into the season even the relievers are being overused because of the lack of innings turned in by the starters.

On Opening Day, CC Sabathia went five. In Game 2, Hiroki Kuroda had to leave in the second inning after catching a line drive on the middle finger of his pitching hand. After Pettitte's gem against the Red Sox, Ivan Nova couldn't make it through the fifth against the Tigers on Friday, and on Saturday, Phil Hughes, thrust into emergency service caused by desperate times, worked into the fifth but couldn't manage to get anyone out.

"That's part of it,'' Girardi agreed. "We need to get some distance out of these guys and get us to the sixth and seventh inning, and that will be helpful.''

Don't blame the manager, although it is easy to give into the temptation, especially when he chose to go to Logan, who surrendered a frightening home run to Prince Fielder on Friday, to face Fielder again after pulling Hughes with two runs in, none out and a runner on first in the fifth inning.

Logan, of course, lost the battle again, surrendering a hard-hit single to Fielder, a sacrifice fly to Victor Martinez and an infield single to Andy Dirks before Girardi pulled him in favor of David Phelps, his designated long man for the game.

It's an easy second guess -- why not just go right to Phelps to pitch to Fielder? -- but in fairness, Logan is only here for one purpose: to retire lefties like Fielder. You can't blame the manager for using him, but you can blame the pitcher for failing, again, to do his job.

"Until [Friday], Boonie's had a lot of success against Fielder,'' Girardi said. "He's got two lefties, he's got a switch hitter in the next three hitters, and you want to try to keep the game right there if we can. If you keep the game right there, we win the game. That's why I did it.''

That, of course, is not the only reason the Yankees lost this one. Phelps came on and allowed an RBI single to Jhonny Peralta, and when the Yankees really needed a shutdown inning, having pulled to within a run at 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth on Lyle Overbay's two-run single, he imploded for two more in the sixth.

By the time Chamberlain came on to allow one more run in the eighth on a single, two walks, a wild pitch and sacrifice fly -- his best inning of the season by far -- the Tigers had already won this argument.

There were other reasons the Yankees lost this one, too. They had four extra-base hits in the second and third innings -- Vernon Wells' solo home run leading off the second, Brennan Boesch's triple off the right-field wall and doubles by Overbay and Kevin Youkilis -- and came away with just one run.

For that, the main culprit was third base coach Rob Thomson, who sent Boesch home on Francisco Cervelli's fly to shallow right. Torii Hunter threw him out by a yard.

For a team with as narrow a margin for error as these Yankees, those are the kinds of mistakes that cost ballgames.

"I think it's just a rough start,'' Girardi said. "We've got to get it turned around. It doesn't get any easier tomorrow with Verlander, but we've got to get it turned around. We're swinging the bats OK. We've got to get the pitching turned around a little bit.''

In this respect, Girardi does have some history on his side. Robinson Cano is not going to hit .111 all season. Brett Gardner's OBP will not stay at .261. Ichiro Suzuki, who has one single in his first 14 at-bats, is guaranteed to get a few more.

And at some point, a pitcher not named Andy Pettitte will deliver a game safely into the hands of Robertson and Rivera.

The question is, how often will that happen, and how soon will it start?

The first five games of this Yankees season have gone nearly as badly as anyone could have imagined.

The next 157 have got to get a whole lot better, and fast.