Yankees batter Nationals’ bullpen, Hughes strong again


The New York Yankees extended their winning to streak to seven games and squashed the Washington Nationals string of victories at the same time, behind another strong performance from Phil Hughes.

Hughes (7-5) has now won three straight starts, six of his last eight and has been impressive in doing so. He has shown the ability to get out of trouble and the strength to dominate during the recent run. Hughes was locked up in a battle with Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, who has been among the best starters in the game thus far in 2012.

Hughes wasn’t intimidated in the slightest. He went about his business and survived one rocky inning while cruising through the rest. He finished the game with six innings of one-run ball, scattering six hits, walking two and striking out nine. Hughes has now struck out 72 hitters in 74 innings pitched.

Gonzalez pitched well enough that he could have been a winner with some offensive support. He too had one rough inning which bloated his pitch count and ultimately forced him from the game which his bullpen let get out of hand.

In the top of the third in a scoreless game, the Yankees dropped two runs on Gonzalez. Derek Jeter laced a one-out double and scored three batters later when Alex Rodriguez singled. Now with two outs Nick Swisher singled home Teixeira but the Nats got Rodriguez in a rundown to end the inning. Gonzalez’s pitch count was at 63 at the end of the inning.

Hughes came out with a chance to shutdown the Nats, but instead worked himself into some trouble. After two straight singles, a fly out and a walk, the bases were loaded. Michael Morse singled to center to get the Nationals on the board and the bases remained full. Ian Desmond was next and Hughes coaxed an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

It has been innings like this that have shown the transformation of Hughes. During his recent upswing, he has shown the ability to get out of trouble, something that was not seen early on in the season.

Both pitchers were effective after the third, but Gonzalez was removed following a lead off single by Andruw Jones in the seventh inning. Nationals manager Davey Johnson called on Brad Lidge to take over. Lidge a former closer, walked Russell Martin and Jayson Nix sacrificed the runners over to second and third. With Hughes’ spot up in the order, Yankees manager Joe Girardi ended Robinson Cano‘s day off. Cano was 3-for-3 against Lidge in his career and Johnson decided to issue him a free pass to load the bases. Up stepped Derek Jeter. Jeter grounded a single to short, scoring two and Desmond’s errant throw allowed Cano to move to third and Jeter ended up at second base. Johnson lifted Lidge for Michael Gonzalez and Granderson doubled plating Cano and Jeter. Just like that the Yankees had a 6-1 lead.

The Yankees bullpen would take it from there. Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada worked scoreless innings with Rapada striking out two. David Robertson made his return from the disabled list in the bottom of the ninth. He allowed a couple of hits and a run while striking out one.

The Yankees had received one more run off the bat of Granderson’s 20th homer of the season. The homer erased the possibility of the Yankees winning a game without a homer. Their record remains 0-12 in such games. The Yankees were able to simmer down, for at least one night, the discussion of their inability to get a hit with runners in scoring position as they went 4-for-8 in those situations.

The victory boosted the Yankees record to 38-25 and they’ve won 17 of their last 21 games. It was Girardi’s 500th win as a manager. The Bombers moved 1.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings. The Nationals (38-24) are now four games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

Yankees have 40-year-old Andy Pettitte on the mound against 26-year-old Jordan Zimmermann in this afternoon’s game. Pettitte (3-2, 2.81), who is striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings since his return from retirement, has become the symbol of the Yankees resurgence. With last night’s win the Yanks are 19-10 since Pettitte’s comeback.

Zimmermann has pitched much better than his 3-5 record indicates, holding a very good 2.91 ERA for the season. Zimmermann has kept the Nats in each of his starts this season, but the offense has let him down averaging only 3.42 runs per start.