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Perhaps more than usual, pitchers will be paramount to Yankees' success in Colorado

05/07/2013 12:03 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

CC Sabathia is a career .238 hitter. (AP)
For the Yankees, injuries among the position players have meant that strong pitching has been paramount for the first five weeks of the season. As they head to Colorado, however, for their first interleague series of the season in a National League park, the pitchers themselves – specifically Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia – could be more important than ever.

First and foremost, the Yankees will face two left-handed pitchers in the series, as Jorge De La Rosa will face Kuroda Tuesday night and Jeff Francis is set to duel Sabathia in Thursday’s finale. Translation: Ben Francisco will likely be in the lineup at least one of those two days, taking away an offensive threat in either a hot Ichiro (who is hitting .381, or 16-for-42, over the last two weeks) or Brett Gardner, who was 8-for-23 last week and has swiped three of his four total stolen bases in the last six games.

Francisco is hitting just .133 this year, so his insertion, at least on paper, seems to diminish a lineup that will already be offensively compromised by the loss of DH Travis Hafner, who will likely be relegated to three pinch-hit at-bats at best because of the Yankees’ reluctance to have him play the field.

Of course, Hafner is lost because the pitchers will have to hit, and that is the key to the second and third pieces of importance for the Yankees starters, specifically Sabathia and Kuroda. David Phelps has to be considered a wild card, as he will only be making his second start of the year, but Sabathia and Kuroda have a reputation as horses that they’ll need to live up to.

Subtracting Kuroda’s first start, which ended due to injury in the second inning, both he and Sabathia have thrown over 100 pitches in every full start, but the big lefty has gone seven-plus innings in five of his seven outings and Kuroda has done the same in three of five; if they can continue that streak and pitch well, it will not only help shorten the bullpen – a plus if David Robertson’s hamstring soreness limits him at all – but also help save the Yankees from having to burn a valuable pinch-hitter early.

Finally, along that same line, one other facet that helps in the last realm is the fact that Kuroda and Sabathia aren’t terrible hitters. Kuroda was 0-for-2 in his lone interleague road start last year, but played four years in the National League and was 21-for-198 (.106) with three RBI, 13 walks, and 32 successful sacrifices; Sabathia, meanwhile, is 2-for-17 in four years as a Yankee (plus an 0-for-3 in his 2009 World Series start in Philadelphia), but he is a career .238 hitter (25-for-105) with three home runs and went 11-for-48 (.229) during his half-season in Milwaukee in 2008.

Translation: Neither is Babe Ruth, or even Tom Glavine, but both can handle the bat at least adequately in most situations to ensure they’re not automatic outs.

Anything can happen over the next three days, of course, but if the pitching staff can stay the course they’ve been on all season, the Yankees’ lineup should be able to come through their Mile High journey soaring like eagles.

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