NEW YORK -- It is never a good thing for the New York Yankees when their Bronx Bomber nickname applies to one of their pitchers rather than their hitters.
So Phil Hughes was not treated gently by the home fans Saturday at the Stadium. The three homers the Yankees starter served up to the Baltimore Orioles weren't the only loud hits he gave up before Joe Girardi yanked him two doubles into the fourth inning. There was also a booming second-inning hit by Manny Machado that seemed to have a chance to hurry out, too, but slammed off the right-field wall with a bang.
Hughes' ERA in his two starts in 2013 is now 10.29. His record is 0-2. When he left the game to boos, Baltimore already led by three and the Yanks decided to play the infield in.
In the fourth.
To prevent the three-run hole they were in from growing to -- gasp -- four?!
It was the sort of subtle little concession that reminded you this Yankees team is going to take some getting used to.
This is only the Yankees' second home series of the young season, but their 5-3 loss to Baltimore dropped their record to 5-5 overall and they don't even pretend they can flex or swagger like they used to. But, then again, that was all before they let a handful of players walk in the offseason -- taking all their home runs with them -- and they lost four other regulars to injury who have been known to hit a few.
This is not a new observation. This is just to repeat there are going to be a lot of times this season when we are going to be struck again and again that this club is going to take some getting used to. The sight of the Yankees having Bombers in all the wrong places -- on the DL, on the pitching mound, or now working in other places like Cleveland (Nick Swisher) and Pittsburgh (Russell Martin) remains disorienting as it plays out in new ways on new days. Even just a year ago, there was no reason for the Yanks to behave as if a three- or four-run deficit was particularly troubling.
Now? Now, the predictions that the Yanks will finish just a humdrum three or four games over .500 seem right on target. They are short-handed and the front office is watching the budget now rather than hunting star replacements. In the ninth, they were forced to move Robinson Cano to shortstop for the first time as a major leaguer, and starting catcher Francisco Cervelli to second after Jayson Nix was pinch hit for in the eighth by waiver-wire pickup Brennan Boesch.
"Weird," Cano later allowed.
Even the venerable New Yorker magazine, which is more associated with Roger Angell's elegiac takes on baseball, has already jumped in and poked fun at the downsized Yankees with its must-see Opening Day cover illustration that tweaked how banged up and creaky they are. Andy Pettitte -- who has since said he'll skip a start Sunday because of back trouble -- is shown leaning on forearm crutches. Alex Rodriguez is in a wheelchair. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter lean on walkers because of the leg injuries they have to come back from this year, and 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki (who is hitting .176 now) holds a black cane in his left hand. Mark Teixeira's arm is in a blue sling.
All that's happened to the Yanks in the 10 days since that issue came out is Jeter's replacement, Eduardo Nunez, keeps hurting himself. Teixeira thought he could -- then couldn't -- test his sore wrist in the batting cage this weekend. And A-Rod sat in the Yanks' dugout for a bit Saturday, and told Girardi he's now allowed to test his surgically repaired hip on the treadmill. "Slowly," Girardi quickly added. "But he was fired up about that."
This will not be enough to stop the jokes about the Yanks' age or fragility.
Or the snarky observations that all is not close to well for A-Rod, who was accused in several reports late this week of allegedly paying for evidence that might be used against him as baseball investigates the Miami clinic alleged to have supplied some players with performance-enhancing drugs.
Hughes, who fought back trouble this spring before Pettitte did, did nothing Saturday to shake his repuation as a notoriously slow starter in April, or his bombs-away rep for giving up home runs. But at least David Phelps, who relieved him Saturday, slammed the door with six strikeouts in four scoreless innings. At some point, Hughes will be hearing footsteps if he continues to pitch poorly.
But not yet, Girardi said.
"Today, I just thought his command wasn't real sharp," the manager said.
Hughes insisted his back was "100 percent" fine, and he didn't claim that the chill in the air at the start of the game inhibited his pitching, either. He agreed his control was just lousy. When asked about being booed the inning he left, he laughed dryly and said, "I'm used to it. Unfortunately."
Give the Yankees a bit of credit. They kept fighting after Hughes tossed them in an early ditch. Ichiro and Cano combined on a beautiful relay to get Nate McLouth at the plate in the second. And Vernon Wells nailed Adam Jones -- the goat of Friday's Orioles loss -- trying to stretch a single to left field into a double in the seventh.
During their own at-bats, the Yanks often tried to play station-to-station baseball. Ichiro tagged and went from first to second on a deep fly to center that Kevin Youkilis just missed hitting out in the seventh. But Ichiro was left stranded. Several Yanks teed off on a few other pitches in the late innings. But those died in the gloves of the Baltimore outfielders, and the Yanks couldn't make this one of those death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts comebacks, either.
The Yanks did score three runs. And two of them came the old-fashioned way, on homers by designated hitter Travis Hafner and Wells.
The quickest antidote for when your own starter bombs.