Post Game Notebook: Three out of four ain't badHughes effective for six innings; Nelson homers twice for Angels
Phil Hughes pitched well, going six innings and giving up only three runs for his first quality start in more than six weeks. Despite the hard-luck loss, both Hughes and manager Joe Girardi were pleased with the outing.
"It was definitely [a step in the right direction]. I thought he threw the ball better today, and his command was better today," manager Joe Girardi said. "We need him to keep improving."
"It was obviously better -- I couldn't pitch much worse than I had been," Hughes added. "The results weren't exactly what I wanted, but I felt like I threw the ball okay. I felt like I had some good life on my fastball and was locating it better, but a couple mistakes here and there hurt me."
Hughes' biggest issue was again his pitch count, as a lot of deep counts brought his total to 104 in just six innings. The biggest indicator of that trouble was Chris Nelson's solo home run, which came on a 3-2 delivery in the tenth pitch of the at-bat.
"I was trying to go down and away," Hughes said of that pitch. "You know, I walked Trout on a 3-2 slider, and Nelson, I threw him a 3-2 slider and he fouled it off, so I kept going with fastballs because I didn't want to walk him. I could've made a better pitch."
All that said, progress or not, Hughes knows that "progress" isn't necessarily good enough right now for a team fighting to stay in the playoff hunt.
"At the end of the day it's a loss. It's not what we wanted, and at this point, every game is important," Hughes said. "It's really not the way I'd like to progress. I have to turn it around quick. But I'll keep battling and do whatever I need to get it on track."
Nelson would victimize the Yankees again later in the game, hitting a grand slam against Boone Logan in the eighth inning that broke it open and gave the Angels a cushion they would eventually need all of.
"He got a fastball in the zone and then a breaking ball he could handle. He hurt us bad today," Girardi said.
The grand slam came on a slider, and while Logan said he got "a little slider happy" in that at-bat and the result wasn't as desired, Girardi admitted he liked the matchup going in.
"I liked the way Boone was throwing. He's a guy we've trusted late in games all year long, so I left him in," Girardi said. "I like his slider, and he's been successful in those situations for us all year long, so I liked the matchup. I know what we want to do to get Chris Nelson out, he just didn't make the pitch. You can bring anyone in in that situation, but if you don't put the pitch where you want it, a guy can do some damage."
Nelson hadn't hit a home run this year prior to today, but neither Girardi nor Angels skipper Mike Scioscia were surprised by the offensive outburst.
"He had a couple good years in Colorado, and he played okay for us," Girardi said. "We knew that he had a down year this year, but we took an opportunity on him and he helped us."
"He's got some pop and he's showed it this year in the 100 or so at-bats he's had with us," Scioscia said. "It's good to see him start to drive the ball. I think he's getting acclimated and comfortable, and once he starts to go around the league and see some pitches, you'll see some more comfortable at-bats."
On the offensive side for the Yankees, as good as Hughes was Thursday, his team couldn't back him up until it was too late. The Yanks were only able to convert 15 hits into four runs, three of which came in a ninth inning when it was all over but the shouting, and they ended up leaving 12 men on base.
"You can look at it two ways: It's good that we had a lot of opportunities, because that's not necessarily something we've had in the past," Girardi said, "but we weren't able to cash in today, and it changes the whole game when you can't do that -- but I like the way we're swinging the bats."
"It's disappointing because we had our chances, but sometimes we have to give credit to a good pitcher," Alfonso Soriano said. "At least we took three of four. We'd like to have taken all four, but there's nothing we can do now."
C.J. Wilson pitched well -- with Soriano saying he mixed in four quality pitches all day -- but the whole of the Yankees' offense ended up being much less than the sum of its parts. Lyle Overbay was the only starter not to reach base, and Soriano was 4-for-5 with an RBI to keep his torrid streak going.
"It's been a good week. I'm seeing the ball well and feeling comfortable at the plate, and I hope to continue hitting like this and helping the team win," Soriano said.
And, despite the loss, the Yankees did show some late fight with that ninth-inning rally, which brought the tying run into the on-deck circle with two outs. And in the end, they still did take three of four, which wins the series and fulfills Girardi's goal.
"I think [we still have momentum] because I think we're playing better and swinging the bats well," Girardi said. "Obviously, every series is really important for us, and there's not a lot of room for error, so we have to take advantage of every situation and try to win every series."
Now 62-58 and still six games out of a Wild Card spot, the Yankees will go to Boston to try to do just that. Girardi has added Soriano, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez to the lineup since the teams last met, and that means it will be a whole different ball game (pun intended) at Fenway this weekend.
"I think it's a different club for sure, and the way we're swinging the bats, we're much different," Girardi said. "We know they pitch well, they swing the bats well and they've been playing great all year long. It's a challenge, but as athletes, that's what you love."
"We feel good. We've started playing well the last five or six games, and I hope this weekend we can go to Boston and have fun and keep winning," Soriano added. "It's always great to go to Boston. It'll be a fun weekend, and I hope we keep playing well and win the series."
As for where they go from there, we'll leave the last word to Girardi, who said this in explaining how the situation really hasn't changed despite the Yankees going from the prey of 2012's playoff race to one of the hunters in 2013:
"It's playoff baseball for us right now, and I think the guys enjoy the challenge. They understand what we have to do. We have to win games, we have to win series and we have to play extremely well. I think our guys look forward to that. Baseball is very meaningful for us right now, and as players, that's what you want."