With help, Vazquez tallies first win
A-Rod's 585th homer gives righty momentum against A's
OAKLAND -- The work continues for Javier Vazquez, who still must hammer out a way to keep his errant mechanics in check during starts. But he now has something to show for those efforts, and the Yankees believe he is heading in the right direction.
Vazquez picked up his first victory back with the Yankees on Tuesday, and he had a little help on his side. Supported by an Alex Rodriguez tape-measure homer, Vazquez pitched into the sixth inning and emerged on the right end of a 7-3 victory over the Athletics at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Bombers' fifth straight victory went in the books for Vazquez after the right-hander had endured two difficult starts to open the campaign, including a loss in which he heard boos at home. Manager Joe Girardi opined that it would be ideal for Vazquez to pick up a victory to bring back to the Bronx -- the sooner, the better.
"Obviously, the first two games were tough," Vazquez said. "I couldn't hide that. It's early in the season as well, and there's still a lot of games to be played. I've got the first one."
Trying to correct an issue with rushing his delivery, Vazquez continued to struggle with his velocity. Relying heavily on offspeed pitches because he has difficulty controlling his fastball, Vazquez did not break 90 mph until his 26th pitch of the evening.
But it was good enough. A-Rod cut down a run at the plate in the second inning and Vazquez turned a pair of double plays himself, including a nifty snare of a hot line drive that helped him hold the A's to three runs in 5 1/3 innings -- all produced by the long ball.
"I thought he pitched efficient enough to win," said Rodriguez, who greeted reliever Craig Breslow with a three-run homer in the sixth inning. "He gave us a good shot. It's important for him to get a nice win and hopefully get some rhythm going from here."
Allowing three walks and striking out six, Vazquez might have finished with a different line had second baseman Robinson Cano or center fielder Curtis Granderson been able to flag Kevin Kouzmanoff's pop fly for the second out of the sixth inning.
Instead, Kurt Suzuki hit a two-run blast to left to join Travis Buck in the homers column, bringing on Boone Logan for a somewhat bumpy Yankees debut. That traversed 1 1/3 innings before Joba Chamberlain had to bail him out of a jam in the seventh to keep the Yankees' lead at four runs, with Damaso Marte and Mariano Rivera also seeing mound time to preserve the win.
"The first two innings, it took him a little time to get going, but then he seemed to settle down pretty good," Girardi said of Vazquez. "I was happy with what he did. I thought he did grind it out."
Nick Swisher said that the best part of the victory was that the external pressure on Vazquez would be reduced.
"Javy's a horse, man," Swisher said. "He's a 200-inning guy. The guy finished fourth in the Cy Young last year in the National League. Everything is going to be just fine. Javy went out there today, and obviously it helps his confidence for us to put some runs on the board for him early. He went out there and pitched well. He definitely gave us a chance to win today."
Vazquez was encouraged by some swings and misses on his fastball, and he believed his breaking pitches were crisper than the first two starts. All in all, it accounted for progress.
"My mechanics are still off, especially on my fastball," Vazquez said. "I'm trying to rush a little bit, but it was an improvement. When I try to be too quick to the plate, my arm drags and stays back. It's getting there."
There was plenty of support from the Yankees' offense, which had patience to burn -- New York worked 10 walks against Oakland pitching -- as well as some thump.
The Yankees hit A's starter Gio Gonzalez for five runs on three hits in 4 1/3 innings, including a lengthy first frame that sent the left-hander back to the dugout trailing by three runs.
With the bases loaded on two walks and a Mark Teixeira double, Jorge Posada hit a chopping grounder that bounced off first baseman Daric Barton as Teixeira trotted home, and Swisher snapped a personal 0-for-16 drought by lining a single to center that chased home Rodriguez and Cano.
With Gonzalez making the long walk to the dugout in the fifth, Rodriguez greeted Breslow with an impressive three-run homer, his second of the season and the 585th of his career, placing him one shy of tying Frank Robinson for seventh place on the all-time list.
Obviously, home runs will always be part of A-Rod's approach, but across the board, hitting coach Kevin Long has made sure that deep counts and methodical offensive play are part of the Yankees' DNA these days.
"We want them to self-destruct and not throw strikes," Rodriguez said. "We're going to keep being patient and pass the baton. That's a big key to our offense -- to stay patient and not chase."
Across the room, the Yankees seemed most pleased for Vazquez, who was presented with the toy wrestling belt indicative of the player of the game. More important was the figurative belt Vazquez is wearing and the fact that there is now at least one victory to go along with it.
"He's contributing, and everyone wants to feel like they're contributing," Girardi said. "That's part of being a team. He got his win tonight, and we look forward to his next start."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.