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Post game notes: Pitching steals the spotlight

Hurlers sharp as Yanks win Jeter's final home opener
04/07/2014 5:58 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Hiroki Kuroda allowed just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in the Yankees home opener on Monday.(AP)
On a day in which Derek Jeter's last home opener was the overshadowing specter, leave it to pitching to be the big post-game success story.

Hiroki Kuroda and four relievers combined for nine strong innings in a 4-2 Yankees win over the Orioles, even if the performance may have been outshined by both every move Jeter made and one the Yankees will have to - namely, putting closer David Robertson on the disabled list with a Grade 1 groin strain.

That kind of under-the-radar, workman-like performance is just what manager Joe Girardi has come to know from Kuroda, though.

"He's consistent, and has been ever since he's been here. It's just kind of what you expect," Girardi said.

Added Kuroda through his interpreter: "I felt some of my stuff wasn't as sharp today, but I just go out and try to make sure I pitch well."

As for the bullpen, Girardi found out this morning that Robertson had hurt his groin, with an MRI this afternoon confirming the strain, and knew his plan all along.

"It's not what you want but you have to figure it out," the skipper said. "Other guys have to step up and get the job done and you expect them to do that."

Shawn Kelley as the closer was that plan, but in the middle innings, it was Matt Thornton, David Phelps, and Adam Warren who formed the bridge to Kelley - and the latter two made the biggest impression, starting with Phelps getting an out that Girardi said was "big for him" by inducing Jonathan Schoop to ground out with the tying runs on base to end the seventh.

"Two outs, tying runs on, I just tried not to give up a hit. (Brian McCann) and I were on the same page so I just went out and made pitches," Phelps said.

It was a big confidence boost after a rocky first week, a boost for both Phelps and his skipper.

"I hope (Girardi) has confidence in me, I want to think a small sample size wouldn't completely ruin it, but I know that I have to make pitches. Today I was able to and I had good results," Phelps said. "That's one of the great things about being in the bullpen. You can have a rough one, but it's a lot easier to get over because you're going to be in a game a lot sooner."

Warren then came in and had a strong eighth, working around a leadoff walk to David Lough by striking out Adam Jones and Chris Davis - both of whom were the tying run, and both of whom were in proverbial scoring position where they stood - back-to-back to end it.

It was a nice evolution for the righty, who has gone from starter candidate to possibly the top set-up man, at least in Robertson's absence.

"We saw that last year. Early last year, and even in the middle of the year, we used him as more of a long reliever, but we got fairly comfortable using him later as a one-inning guy," Girardi said of Warren, "and then we got him back-to-back, and we did that again today, and I like what I saw. I was encouraged by it at the end of last year, and I thought he had a great spring and that's why he's working his way back."

By the time Kelley came on to get his first career save - in his first career ninth-inning save attempt, no less - it was almost academic.

"I knew going in to today I'd be the closer…it felt good and was pretty cool to get my first save, it's a good feeling to get that one under my belt," Kelley said. "Doing it in the home opener was exciting, but when you're pitching in New York and you have guys like Jeter behind you, it's easy to find adrenaline in any situation."

And as for going forward, Girardi said Kelley would get the bulk of the opportunity, but to a man, everyone knows it doesn't matter who gets the job done as long as it is indeed done.

"I'm going to go out there and pitch my game, try to get outs like I always have. Regardless of the role or situation, my job is to get outs, and the quicker I can do that, the better it is for the team," Kelley said. "Injuries are part of the game and we have to overcome it; we saw today what we're capable of and hopefully we can keep doing that going forward."

Some other notes from the Yankees' successful home opener:

-Yangervis Solarte walked and scored in the third, then had an RBI single in the fifth. He's still hitting at a torrid pace despite a 1-for-3, but even he had to defer to the magic of Jeter's last opening day at the Stadium: "I just look to the sky and thank God for the opportunity to be here. I look next to me and Derek Jeter is playing next to me; I've seen him since I was little, and I never fathomed that I could get to play on the same field as him."

-Girardi announced that Mark Teixeira's MRI Monday morning revealed a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring, and there's no set timetable for Tex's return: "Hopefully it's not too long. He probably won't do a whole lot for a week and then go from there."

-Despite the strong showings from Phelps and Warren today and Vidal Nuno this season, Girardi said he still considers them strong options if he needs a spot start: "I think I said pretty early that if Warren or Phelps didn't make it they'd probably be in our bullpen, but I wasn't exactly sure what roles they would play…I think I could go with any one of the three (if a start is needed), and I think who I choose depends on who we're facing."

-Derek Jeter's double in the fifth inning was turned into a "hustle double," as The Captain had to motor into second base on a ball off the wall - and it led to some razzing: "There was more than one person that got on him. I even asked him 'do you think Jorge (Posada) is on you up in the suite,' and he said 'oh yeah.' He thought it was gone.'"

-That said, Jeter joked he was showing off his wheels on the play, and Girardi said despite the situation it was a positive: "He was running well and able to do it. We watched him last year, he labored all year, and it got worse as the season went on. That was the first thing I looked for when we got to spring training, but we never saw that and that was encouraging."

-We'll give the last word to Girardi, talking about the Yankees winning four of five since an 0-2 start: "We've played better baseball for sure. Today I thought we did a lot of little things right. Our defense was excellent, we didn't walk people, and had timely hitting. I think in the last five games, minus the game against Dickey, we've swung the bats better."

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