Eduardo Nunez really shouldn’t be the story of this game. Hiroki Kuroda, Mike Teixeira, Eric Chavez, and the Yankee bullpen all had great games, and Eduardo Nunez was just playing a new position. But really, what image are you going to remember about this game a few days from now? For me, its Eduardo Nunez stumbling his way toward fly balls in the outfield, but still managing to catch them for outs.
Nunez’s dangerous play out in left was just one ostensible indicator that Hiroki Kuroda, while effective, was getting lucky in the field. He put a lot of fly balls to the Yankee defense, but managed to bend-but-not-break his way toward a one-run, seven-inning performance. Lucky or not, I’ll take that. The Yankees, Curtis Granderson in particular, got big outs for Kuroda when he needed them. It serves me right for writing about how bad the Yankee defense was just eight hours ago. Kiroda’s willingness to throw strikes and put the ball in play got him past the 7th inning in just 87 pitches, which should be a sign of good things to come. I’ve always believed that pitch counts are an underrated predictor of future success for a pitcher adjusting to a new league (seriously, this needs to be tracked more in the minor leagues), and when Kiroda has been on he has been very efficient.
Eric Chavez was the hero. Chavez is hitting .320/.333/.560 on the season, and really should be justifying increased playing time at this point. Chavez may be old, but he still has the shell of a great player to work with, and is definitely capable of outplaying Eduardo Nunez when healthy. Once the Yankee outfield returns to shape, I’d love to see Chavez get 2-3 starts a week while Alex Rodriguez sits or DHs.
And besides from those catches in the outfield, the Chavez home run, and a few scattered hits, the game was fairly uneventful. David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were themselves, with Robertson striking out the side and Rivera using only 9 pitches against 4 batters.
It was uneventful because Jason Hammel – who has pitched just well enough in three seasons to get himself traded away from Colorado – showed off the big curveball he’s been using all season to great effect. The Yankee hitting class as a whole may not be looking all that intimidating right now with Nick Swisher out and everyone not named Derek Jeter or Curtis Granderson disappointing, but it should be remembered that Hammel has been a wrecking ball so far in 2012. He has a 1.97 ERA over 32 innings, and a K/BB ratio 30/10. Against someone that hot, getting 2 runs and the win off should be considered a good day.
Tomorrow, we get to watch Hughes try to right ship for the 94th time, but at least to watch him do it against not-a-Yankee-killer Brian Matusz. I wager we’ll see a few long balls.