These aren't last year's Yankees
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Soriano hasn't exactly endeared himself in New York, both with his performances and his attitude. (REUTERS)
The New York Yankees are never shy about going after the high-profile free agents, like C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett but in the early going of the 2011 season, it's a couple of reclamation projects who are keeping the Bronx Bombers' pitching staff afloat.
With Phil Hughes on the shelf indefinitely with what is now believed to be a circulatory problem, creating a dead-arm syndrome and sapping his fastball of its velocity, 35-year-old Freddy Garcia has stepped into the rotation and performed well.
He joins a starting staff that already includes Bartolo Colon, another who has been retrieved from baseball's scrap heap for one more go-round in the majors.
Colon handcuffed the Blue Jays on five hits in 6 2/3 innings on April 20 in Toronto in a 6-2 Yankees win. In his last start, he was even better in beating the White Sox 3-1 over eight innings.
Garcia, who has reinvented himself into a righthanded version of Jamie Moyer, has allowed just five hits and four walks over 13 innings in three appearances for New York. He'll face the Jays and Ricky Romero Friday night in the opener of their three-game weekend series at Yankee Stadium.
At the plate, the Yankees went into Thursday night's series finale against the White Sox with 39 home runs in their first 18 games, a longball pace reminiscent of the Blue Jays in 2010.
The Yankees are finding, as the Jays did a year ago, that home run binges come at a cost to on-base percentage. Last April, the Yanks had 27 homers in 20 April games, but still scored 118 runs, largely because of a .362 on-base percentage. This year, New York's on-base percentage has dropped to .328 and they have produced 108 runs.
This week, in the first three games against the White Sox, the Yankees have scored just five runs, three of them on homers.
But nobody in New York is much concerned with the offence. Pitching remains the issue and set-up man Rafael Soriano has found himself in the uncomfortable Big Apple spotlight.
Soriano saved 45 games for the Tampa Bay Rays last season and signed a three-year, $35 million contract to set up for iconic closer Mariano Rivera. Soriano hasn't exactly endeared himself in New York, both with his performances and his attitude.
He has appeared in 10 innings over 11 appearances and has allowed nine earned runs. All season long in 2010, he allowed just 12 earned runs. Just as bad has been his demeanour on the mound, leading to speculation that he isn't happy in pinstripes. Rivera has advised Sopriano to relax.
"New York is going to be different," Rivera said. "There are a lot of expectations, and you just have to learn how to deal with it. You have to learn to enjoy it."
-- Ken Fidlin