Yanks can't help spotty Hughes
Righty chased in fourth inning; A-Rod strikes out four times
KANSAS CITY -- Joe Girardi's first Spring Training as the Yankees' manager produced one of baseball's best feel-good stories, a harmonious mix of youngsters and veterans embracing intense conditioning and a season of health.
The first eight games of the regular season? Not so much. Phil Hughes was knocked out early on Tuesday, but the Yankees' real concerns intensified when catcher Jorge Posada was removed early from a 5-2 loss to the Royals, possibly bound for a stint on the disabled list, depending on the results of an ensuing MRI.
Unable to muster much on his throws, Posada will have his dead right shoulder checked on Wednesday and is not expected to play. Derek Jeter is also sidelined for the series in Kansas City, while Jason Giambi carefully tiptoed back into the lineup after sitting two games to guard a sore left groin.
"It's very frustrating -- we're definitely wounded right now," said Alex Rodriguez, who struck out four times. "Having such a great spring and being so healthy, it's the most ironic thing to have two, three or four of our guys banged up early on."
Girardi said the ranks of those visiting the trainer's room were, of all his worries, the most prominent.
"Health is a huge concern, because you can't use your players if you don't have them," Girardi said.
With 17 of the Yankees' next 19 games on the road, the scene wasn't much prettier on the field. During a Kauffman Stadium home opener in which the reigning American League Most Valuable Player accepted a rare golden sombrero -- including three times looking -- Hughes struggled with his command and lasted just three-plus innings.
The Yankees scored twice off starter Brian Bannister in the second inning, on run-scoring hits by Wilson Betemit and Johnny Damon, but they managed little else. Betemit also struck out three times, playing shortstop in place of Jeter.
Rodriguez struck out looking all three times he faced Bannister before fanning against reliever Ramon Ramirez in the seventh for the fourth punchout -- just the fourth time he has done so his Major League career. Bannister finished allowing two runs on five hits in five innings, walking four and striking out six, and A-Rod said he was impressed.
"He made some great pitches -- there's not much you can do," Rodriguez said. "I can't really look back and say those were pitches I could have hit or crushed; perhaps maybe just fouled off. Today, he was much better than I was -- give him a lot of credit."
It was a line that Hughes would have traded for. In Hughes' second start of the season, Mark Teahen touched the right-hander for a run-scoring double to left-center field in the first. Hughes walked two and hit a batter in the second, allowing a sacrifice fly to John Buck as his strike zone jumped around.
"A lot of your start depends on how you go out and start," Hughes said. "You can tell by the first inning how things are going to be, and if things are off, you've got to try to make some adjustments. A lot of times, it's hard to make those in-game adjustments, and today was one of those days."
Hughes pitched out of a bases-loaded jam -- self-created on two walks -- in the third, as he got Tony Pena to line out to center, but he left trailing by a run in the fourth after allowing a hit to Joey Gathright, who stole two bases and then scored on a Mark Grudzielanek single to chase the rookie.
The 21-year-old Hughes walked four and struck out two in the 87-pitch outing, which included 44 strikes; Girardi believed that Hughes had difficulty adjusting to his secondary pitches on a day that he was unable to spot his fastball.
"He wasn't able to ever get in his rhythm, where he was throwing strike after strike and attacking the zone," Girardi said. "He got into some long innings and he kept us in the game, but we had to go to the bullpen too early."
Kansas City extended its lead facing right-hander Ross Ohlendorf in the fifth on three consecutive hits, with Ross Gload driving in a pair with a single to left. Later, Gload said that new manager Trey Hillman has the 5-2 Royals shaking their also-ran reputation.
"I think we've kind of changed our tune a little bit," Gload said. "We've played seven good ballgames. Trey's got us playing the game right, playing the game hard, which you can control. There are things you can't control, but you can control how hard you play every day."
Billy Traber and LaTroy Hawkins each hurled scoreless frames after Ohlendorf's three-inning performance, but the Yankees' bats stayed quiet. New York didn't manage a baserunner after Robinson Cano's seventh-inning single off Ron Mahay, as Ramirez and Leo Nunez set up for Joakim Soria's fourth save.
"We definitely had some opportunities to put some runs on the board, and we weren't able to get that big hit," Girardi said.
The running Royals made life miserable for the Yankees, particularly Posada, who had been pulled aside by Girardi before the game and warned that he would be removed if his shoulder stiffness became a problem. Gathright burned up the bases, tying a career high with three steals, and Pena also took a bag on Posada. Gload stole second on backup catcher Jose Molina in the seventh but was gunned down trying to take third as well.
"Joey Gathright is going to run whenever he's on," Girardi said. "It doesn't matter who's behind home plate -- that's part of his game. He took advantage of us today."
Molina's performance, in particular, gave Damon -- the most optimistic of the Yankees -- something to cheer for. Pegged by scouts as having one of the quickest releases in baseball, Molina could have more of an opportunity to showcase his wares in future games. It wasn't much, but for this day, Damon would take it.
"Just seeing what he did in three innings today, he caught me off guard a couple of times," Damon said of Molina. "He's pretty awesome back there. We've got a few major guys going through a few things, but we're the Yankees. We have great guys who can step in."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.