05/10/07 12:15 AM ET
Mussina gets Yankees back to .500
Jeter's three RBIs complement righty's six effective innings
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Mike Mussina scattered three hits over six innings and Derek Jeter had three RBIs as the Yankees (16-16) defeated the Rangers on Wednesday, 6-2, reaching the .500 mark for the first time since April 21.
"We're playing like we should have been playing from the beginning," said Mussina (2-1). "It's good to see us get it going again. Hopefully, we can just keep playing that way."
The first month of the season was messy for the Yankees, who ended April five games under the break-even mark, in large part because their starting rotation was ravaged by injuries and inconsistency.
May has treated the Yankees much better. After missing the better part of three weeks with a strained left hamstring, Mussina won for the second time in as many starts since being activated from the disabled list, allowing two runs in an 85-pitch effort against the Rangers.
Behind the start from Mussina -- who walked one and struck out two, allowing a solo home run to Brad Wilkerson -- the Yankees improved to 7-2 in May. Five of their wins have come against the Rangers.
"We're playing so much better this month than last month," Mussina said. "Once you get winning ballgames, it gets kind of contagious. We all get out there and want to play well and pitch as well as the guy before us."
While on the disabled list, Mussina was able to keep his arm active by tossing, but he said that he still hasn't found his full strength level. On Wednesday, the Yankees allowed Mussina to delve a little deeper into the contest, improving upon the 64 pitches he'd been limited to in a doubleheader start at Texas on May 3.
In his previous start, Mussina threw 49 of his 64 pitches for strikes. Working again with backup catcher Wil Nieves, Mussina posted another sharp ratio on Wednesday in New York, getting calls on 59 of his 85 offerings.
"He's a veteran," Nieves said. "He knows what he's going to do and how he's going to get hitters out."
Quality pitching has been a recent trend for the Yankees, who have garnered solid efforts from some unlikely contributors. Rookies Darrell Rasner and Matt DeSalvo stifled the Mariners earlier in the week, and veteran stalwart Andy Pettitte locked down the Rangers in the series opener on Tuesday.
"It's big," Jeter said. "We need our starters to pitch well, and they've been doing that for a while now. I think that's why we've been playing so good."
Moved to the No. 3 spot in New York's batting order to fill a hole vacated by the ailing Jason Giambi, who is battling a bone spur in his left foot, Jeter responded by pacing an offense that jumped on Rangers starter Robinson Tejeda.
The first five batters of the contest reached base and four scored against Tejeda (3-3), who lasted just 3 2/3 innings and was charged with six runs on six hits. The tone of the Yankees' attack was set by Jeter, who had a RBI single in the first inning and collected two RBIs with a two-out hit in the fourth, chasing the right-hander.
"[Jeter's] in a pretty good groove right now," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "When he gets up there with men on base, he has good at-bats, and for the most part, he's getting base hits -- important base hits."
Jeter is batting .362 and has stroked 10 hits in 23 at-bats on the homestand.
"I feel all right," Jeter said. "That's about it. The biggest key is that you want to swing at good pitches, and I'm not doing that all the time. There's always room for improvement, though."
Johnny Damon had two hits and two runs scored, while Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano also drove in runs.
With Mussina getting the ball to a manageable point for the bullpen, the Yankees contributed strong defense along the way, highlighted by Abreu's throw from right field that cut down Mark Teixeira's attempt to stretch a sixth-inning single into a double.
Doug Mientkiewicz and Jeter also had nifty defensive plays for the Yankees, who used three relievers -- Brian Bruney, Mike Myers and Scott Proctor -- to get through the seventh inning. Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera finished off the game with tidy innings.
"To me, I think it's a direct indication of when you have good pitching," Torre said. "These guys are out there throwing a lot of strikes, and you're on your toes when you're in the field."
The Yankees even found a light-hearted moment in the sixth inning, when Nieves -- hitless in his first 21 at-bats of the season and without a Major League safety since Sept. 29, 2002 -- finally came through with a single to left field.
Given the luxury of a four-run lead, the Yankees' bench roared with laughter when Nieves made an ill-advised turn toward second base and was easily thrown out by Wilkerson while attempting to press for more.
The way the Yankees' fortunes have turned this month, you could hardly blame him.
"I'd been hitting the ball with no luck," said Nieves, who finished the night batting .042. "It just feels good to get a base hit. It feels even better than we won."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.