Chief among the Yankees' current concerns is the starting rotation. And with CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda already on the shelf, the primary worry has been Hiroki Kuroda.
Kuroda endured a massive tailspin in the second half of last season and has struggled at times in his first eight starts this season.
However, in the last few games, he has trended upward for the Yankees, who will leave for a nine-game road trip through the Midwest as a first-place team in the AL East after splitting a doubleheader with the Pirates on Sunday.
It is early to be having conversations about the standings, but it’s hard not to feel good about their positioning with injury news somewhat similar to last season.
“I feel good about where we are,” closer David Robertson said. “Of course, we had a little rough spell and lost a few games in a row. But we turned it around and won a few ballgames here. As far as first place though, it's way too early to be even looking at the standings. ”
The Yankees were inches away from getting the doubleheader sweep but Yangervis Solarte hit a screaming liner that Pittsburgh left fielder Josh Harrison dove face-first for and caught.
Still, even with that tough break, there were encouraging signs on the mound, especially in opener when Kuroda found a way to get through six innings unscathed. His final line of three runs and five hits in the 4-3 win will not wow anyone but it’s better than the alternative — like last Monday when he was pounded by the Mets.
“As a pitcher, the win is always is the big thing,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “Even though you may not have perfect stuff, but to get the win was very encouraging.”
Kuroda overcame a first-inning home run by Neil Walker as he had his slider going early, getting five of his first nine outs that way. After he loaded the bases in the fourth, he bore down by getting three strikeouts, two ground outs and a pair of fly outs.
It was the fourth win in a row and seventh in the last 11 games.
“The mechanics and command, stuff like that aren’t as good as last year,” Kuroda said. “But I’ve had outings that weren’t as good but with good results last year. So I tried to overcome adversity and do something [good].”
The positive feeling extended to Vidal Nuno, who allowed three runs (two earned) and five hits in six innings in the second game. He tired in the sixth and allowed a two-run home run to Starling Marte.
“It was just mixing my pitches, getting them off-balance,” Nuno said. “I didn’t make too many mistakes today. It was a tough game, but getting in a routine [is good].”
Still Nuno gave them a chance to win. He was off the hook for the loss when Solarte homered and the Yankees had chances in the seventh and eighth before Harrison made the right read and robbed them of a doubleheader sweep.
"I thought he had a double there,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Harrison was a big reason they won that second game today. His defense [and] his offense really hurt us today. [Solarte] put a great at-bat on it, hit a rocket. They were probably playing no-doubles [defense] there and he lays out. You don't see guys lay out 320 feet away very often but he did.”
“We had a chance to take the second one,” Robertson added. “But it just wasnt in the cards tonight. ”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.