Yankees Postgame Notebook: Even in struggle, there's still progress
The Yankees shortstop left the game in the fifth inning after feeling tightness in his left rib cage, and was taken for an MRI that came back negative. Manager Joe Girardi said Nunez was day-to-day, and that he was comfortable in the short term if he had to continue using Jayson Nix at shortstop with Chris Nelson at third base.
"We'll see where he's at on Tuesday. … Not sure he'll be a player then but we'll see where he's at," Girardi said. "I think for a couple days, we're okay; sometimes you have to be a little creative, but we're okay."
In the loss, Andy Pettitte was taken off the hook for a decision but struggled once again, allowing four runs on four hits over five innings. He also walked four batters and hit one while throwing 100 pitches, and said after the game that it's frustrating because he feels fine physically, but hasn't been able to get the handle on any of his pitches over his last two starts.
"The issue was everything again; everything you want to do as a starting pitcher I couldn't do," Pettitte said. "I had no command of my fastball, I wasn't able to hit with my off-speed stuff when I wanted to, and it was a battle again. … My cutter is non-existent right now, so a pitch in certain counts that I want to go to isn't there, (and) when I do throw a good one and trust it and the next one's a bad pitch, it's hard to trust it again."
Despite Pettitte's struggles, the Yankees offense mustered three runs in the sixth inning to tie the game at 4-4 and take him off the hook, and they had two chances after Oakland re-took a 5-4 lead in the eighth. Unfortunately, Lyle Overbay's long fly ball with two on and two out in the eighth was tracked down by Yoenis Cespedes, and A's closer Grant Balfour struck out the red-hot Vernon Wells with two on and two out in the ninth to end it.
"We had our chances in the eighth and ninth, and you assume Vernon is going to come up with a hit there," Girardi said. "I thought Lyle put a good swing on the ball and just missed it. They have a good bullpen, no doubt about it, but we put some pressure on them, and I like the way our guys just keep going at them.
"Those are the moments you love to be in," Wells added, "but unfortunately, I have to wait until next time for that moment to be a good one."
And, while lefty Boone Logan gave up what eventually was the game-winning home run to Josh Donaldson, Girardi was impressed with his bullpen overall; Shawn Kelley relieved Logan with a runner on second and no one out in the ninth and retired all three batters he faced, and rookie Preston Claiborne was impressive with two perfect innings in his Major League debut.
"He was very good, he threw strikes and used all his pitches," Girardi said of Claiborne. "He used his slider and his changeup effectively, and I thought he had good command. He gave us two important innings that allowed us to come back and tie the score, so I was pleased."
Claiborne, who took a ball and the lineup card from his debut among other souvenirs, admitted that Sunday was the "biggest game of his life so far," but he was able to lock down his emotions by remembering the simplicity of the game itself.
"They called my name and I tried to get ready as quickly as possible and keep my emotions in check," Claiborne said. "I've pitched in a lot of games, and I knew when I took the mound it was just playing baseball again, so I tried to keep that in mind and tried to execute as best I could."
With Joba Chamberlain in the disabled list and David Robertson dealing with a sore hamstring, Claiborne could become a big part of Joe Girardi's bullpen in the next couple weeks, and it's a role he looks forward to trying to fill.
"(Making a strong debut was) a huge step for me, and obviously a big confidence booster, so we'll build on it and go from there," he said. "It's been a whirlwind, and obviously a lot of excitement."
The Yankees do have one other huge positive coming out of the loss, that being the fact that they just finished a 10-game homestand with a 7-3 record and won two out of three series - numbers that Girardi said he's very pleased with.
"Obviously we would've loved to have won today and gone three-of-three (in series) and 8-2," Girardi said, "but overall, you have to take advantage of a long homestand and I thought we did a good job."
They now have an off-day Monday as they head to Colorado for a three-game set with the Rockies, and Girardi, who was one of the original Rockies in their inaugural 1993 season, said it's probably the most poignant road trip he'll make this season with the Yankees.
"I always enjoy going back there; being part of that organization at the beginning was a very enjoyable time in my life, getting the fan support that we had and playing in Mile High Stadium and then moving over to Coors Field," Girardi said. "The people were great to me there and I have family there, so I'm looking forward to it."
And, no matter what happens or who else may be lost along the way, the Yankees know they won't get any points for sympathy, so they just have to keep going out and finding ways to win.
"The injuries are starting to get a little out of control, and it's not what you want, but you can't make excuses," Vernon Wells said. "You just have to keep doing your job."
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