Yanks shut out in Hughes' debut
Offense can't get going to provide support for young phenom
NEW YORK -- Maybe a weekend showdown with the Red Sox is what the Yankees need to shake out of their early-season funk. At least, that's the hope of the players in their clubhouse, because an encounter with A.J. Burnett didn't work any wonders.
Burnett handled the Yankees with aplomb on Thursday, firing seven shutout innings at Yankee Stadium to spoil 20-year-old phenom Phil Hughes' Major League debut.
The Yankees lost their sixth consecutive game in whitewash fashion, dropping a 6-0 decision that left them grasping for reasons not to push a panic button just days after they went against earlier logic to summon Hughes to the Bronx and bolster a depleted starting rotation.
Within their five-game road skid to Boston and Tampa Bay, the Yankees were at least somewhat content to view positives in that they put up runs against every starting pitcher and had chances to win the games.
Not so on Thursday, as the two runs a jittery Hughes surrendered in the first inning were enough to arm Burnett for his second win of the season.
"I think all of us had plans to go out there and do better than we did today," said Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon, who went 0-for-3. "Not yet. Hopefully, we will."
Shut out for the first time this season, the Yankees mustered just four singles in seven innings against the Toronto right-hander. Their lone attempt at an extra-base hit -- Jason Giambi's bid to turn a fourth-inning single into a double -- was cut down by a strong outfield throw from shallow left.
On a night when even the Yankees' most explosive performer, Alex Rodriguez, saw a probable fourth-inning home run battered by wind and delivered to center fielder Alex Rios' glove, the rest of the roster didn't seem to stand a chance against Burnett's high velocity and good movement.
"Normally, we stay with this guy," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He didn't budge. He wouldn't budge. We hit a couple of balls hard, but we didn't do a whole lot. He pretty much had his way with us."
With the bats held in check and stripped of their extra-base power by Burnett, who walked four and struck out five, Hughes could not have won even if he hadn't bookended his first Major League start with two-run innings.
Widely considered the top pitching prospect in professional baseball, Hughes began his career by allowing four runs and seven hits in a 4 1/3-inning effort.
The youngest player ever to make his Major League debut for the Yankees after being selected in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, the 20-year, 306-day-old Hughes surrendered a hit to his first batter, Rios, who scored on Vernon Wells' one-out double.
Frank Thomas followed with a RBI single before Hughes escaped the first inning, and even though he wasn't pleased with his command, he held Toronto scoreless until the fifth.
On his way to a 91-pitch performance, Hughes -- who walked one and struck out five -- ran into trouble in the fifth, as John McDonald legged out an infield single and scored on Rios' hit. Thomas added a sacrifice fly off Brian Bruney, who relieved Hughes with one out in the inning.
"It was kind of an up-and-down night," Hughes said. "It's all about trying to find that consistency and keeping that throughout the course of seven or eight innings."
Toronto added two runs on three walks, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly against relievers Sean Henn and Scott Proctor in the seventh inning, as the American League's most-worked bullpen logged another 4 2/3 innings of activity.
The sleepy offensive effort concluded with just a fraction of the paid attendance remaining to witness Jorge Posada fanning against Toronto reliever Scott Downs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Minutes later, Torre would gauge the pressure level of his clubhouse, insisting that the sixth loss hadn't adversely affected the roster any more than the first five.
"Sure, they're frustrated and disappointed," Torre said. "But I don't sense anybody is worried about it. I don't think any of them are lacking the confidence in their ability."
Thursday's action added another chapter to a losing string that began a week ago in Boston, and it's not often that the Yankees will speak openly about wanting to get the Red Sox back on the field.
But there was Doug Mientkiewicz, standing in the home clubhouse, eagerly beckoning for Boston to arrive in the Big Apple and provide a jump start to the Bombers' engines.
"Maybe the rivalry will get us over the hump to win a game," Mientkiewicz said. "Tonight wasn't pretty, but the five games before that, we could have won. We've got them again, and it's in our backyard. Let's get after it."
The Red Sox arrived in town early Friday morning, and the Yankees couldn't even begin to envision a scenario where they return the favor of a Boston series sweep.
Right now, they'd settle for just one win.
"I think we always want to make up ground," Damon said. "We don't ever want to get behind. If we win tomorrow, we'll make up a game, and obviously we'd love to have a sweep. We just have to go out and play well."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.