The subpar version of Phil Hughes made another appearance as the combination of his inability to finish off hitters and a struggling offense led many to call it a night after the seventh inning.
Hughes set a poor tone early by allowing two runs in the opening inning as the Yankees settled for a doubleheader split with a 6-0 loss to the Dodgers.
As exciting as the 6-4 win in the Yankees’ first game was, this one featured little excitement from a Yankee standpoint. Yankee fans were treated to another strong showing from the electrifying Yasiel Puig, who scored three runs and capped his debut in the Bronx with a long home run in the seventh.
“He’s the real deal,” New York first baseman Lyle Overbay said of Puig, who was 4-for-9 in the doubleheader. “He squared up every ball except one. Even that one, the last one, he hit pretty good. He was out in front, but he’s impressive.”
Hughes’s stuff was anything but electric as he fell to 1-4 over his last seven starts and 0-3 with a 13.90 ERA in his last three home starts. His run of substandard outings started when he allowed six runs while getting just two outs against Seattle on May 15.
“I really didn't have any control in the first inning,” Hughes said. “I was kind of fortunate to get a double-play ball to get us out of that. From then on it was just a struggle to find any sort of rhythm. Pitch count got up in a hurry in the first couple of innings, and just trying to battle back and I didn't give us as much length as I could.”
The stretch of poor home starts continued against the Red Sox on June 1. During their 11-1 rout, the Red Sox went 5-for-15 on two-strike counts. It was more of the same last night as the Dodgers went 5-for-11 with two strikes against Hughes.
The Dodgers had five hits in their first six at-bats with two strikes, including a line-drive single by Adrian Gonzalez to make it 1-0 and a double by Ethier that made it 3-0.
"I felt like early on my fastball was kind of leaking over the middle of the plate, but it was down so you saw a lot of ground-ball base hits and stuff like that,” Hughes said. “There comes a point in every game that's kind of the turning point in the game. Two runs is fine. Three runs, you feel like you can get back from that. But after five you start pressing a little bit. I just really couldn't find a rhythm and locate pitches when I needed to.”
The downward trend also happened in a stretch when CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have gutted out wins without having their best stuff. The latest example of that was Kuroda working in and out of trouble over 6 2/3 innings Wednesday afternoon.
“I think he is [still learning],” manager Joe Girardi said of Hughes. “I think he gives it his best every time he goes out there. Sometimes he backs off a little bit too. Sometimes you maybe try too hard and maybe it’s thinking of one pitch at a time or trying something different.”
The trend is also occurring with Michael Pineda making rehab starts and Ivan Nova in the minors. Girardi said the Yankees haven’t thought about pulling Hughes and the future free-agent right-hander also isn’t thinking about it.
“My only concern is pitching well,” Hughes said. “Things I can't control, I don't really concern myself with. The No. 1 baseball priority is pitching well every five days and that's really all I worry about.”
In the third inning, Ethier fell behind 0-2 but fouled off two more pitches, evened the count at 2-2 and drove a changeup just out of center fielder Brett Gardner’s range as Gonzalez scored.
The other issues besides a poor fastball early on and an inability to get outs with two strikes were Hughes’ secondary stuff.
Hughes allowed all the hits in the opening inning on fastballs and the first six overall on his primary pitch.
“He was just missing his spot with it and it got him in trouble,” Girardi said. “You’ve got to hit your spot.”
Los Angeles took a 5-0 lead in the fifth on an RBI single by Ramirez and a sacrifice fly by Jerry Hairston Jr.
The Yankees lost for the seventh time in 12 games and they were shut out for the sixth time this season.
“Giving up two runs in the first isn't exactly the way you want to start things out, and it kind of gets guys pressing a little bit on the offensive side,” Hughes said. “I have to be better. That's for sure."
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.