The Orioles are not to be confused with the Red Sox or Rays. Those are opponents the Yankees will face down the stretch, a time when they might need Javier Vazquez in a significant spot.
One start against the majors’ worst team in June certainly does not turn around a season, but the Yankees could hardly contain their enthusiasm after watching Vazquez pitch seven outstanding innings in last night’s 3-1 victory.
“Everybody is going to run into bumps in the road,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But we’ve been really encouraged by the way he has been throwing the baseball.
“He has strikeout stuff. He has groundball stuff. There’s a lot of things that Javier can do. He has three different off-speed pitches, he can sink it. He can four-seam it. I thought he used everything effectively, but he was really good with his fastball.”
Before last night, Vazquez’s finest starts occurred in a span of nine days in Detroit and in Queens – two venues widely considered pitcher-friendly. His only significant positive contribution at Yankee Stadium was the one hitter (Kevin Youkillis) he struck out to earn the win against the Red Sox on May 17 but last night Vazquez resembled the man who had a career year with the Braves last season.
“Obviously I want to pitch good here,” Vazquez said. “Everybody knows it. I’m working on that. It feels great to throw a good game here. Whoever says it’s not important, I think it was important to go out there and throw a good game.”
That makes two starts and three appearances out of 10, hardly a percentage that will cause any believers to convert, especially when the last start at home featured three White Sox home runs.
Since that instance, Vazquez believes he has become a better pitcher both mechanically and with his command. It showed with the 18 first-pitch strikes, which helped efficiency and rhythm.
“Obviously when you are pitching fast, you’re throwing strikes first of all,” Vazquez said. “You’re getting early outs which all of that is good. It’s indicative of throwing a good game.”
Still allowing four hits to 26 hitters and doing so efficiently was not the most satisfying component of Vazquez’s finest home start. That occurred when some adversity struck with one out in the seventh, with a potential here we go again moment looming.
An inning after Corey Patterson turned a high fastball into a second deck home run to right field, Vazquez made the fans squirm a little when Luke Scott drilled a full count fastball to the right field corner, putting runners at second and third with one out.
Like Manny Acta, Girardi played the percentages by intentionally walking Matt Wieters. They worked extremely well because Vazquez used his changeup to strike Adam Jones out and retire Julio Lugo on a first-pitch force-out.
“He really buckled down,” Girardi said. “He knew exactly what he needed to get and he got it.”
The only thing standing between Vazquez and a well-deserved fourth victory was a quiet offense or lack of it. Six innings off Brian Matusz produced a Curtis Granderson home run in the fifth among five other hits but then for the third straight game late inning lightning struck though some luck was necessary.
With two outs, the Yankees seemed destined to wait another inning as Alex Rodriguez hit a sure-fire inning-ending groundout to third baseman Miguel Tejada. Except that it was a big break when Tejada’s throw went off Ty Wigginton’s chest as Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher raced home.
Win or lose, the night would have belonged to Vazquez.
Losing to the worst team in baseball further casts doubts about Vazquez in bigger games and the same fans who might have offered support would been among the hostile mob in the Bronx. Winning makes people feel a little better but now they crave even more positive results.
“He looks like he’s happy that he’s contributing, that he’s part of this,” Girardi said. “He’s throwing the ball like he’s capable of, and as a player, that’s all you want — to play up to your capabilities. You can live with the results when you’re doing it.”
Now everyone in the clubhouse and in the stands wants to see more results like this against some of the better teams.
“When (Vazquez) is on, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” Granderson said.