Following a bit of an underwhelming 3-3 road trip against the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees returned to the Bronx for the home opener against the Baltimore Orioles. They got a little bit of everything, as Hiroki Kuroda and the bullpen pitched well, while the offense was able to grind out Ubaldo Jimenez and the Orioles' bullpen in a 4-2 victory.
After wasting a scoring opportunity with two runners on and one out in the second, the Yankees got on the scoreboard in the following inning. Yangervis Solarte kicked off the frame with a walk; Brett Gardner got the team's first hit with a single, which advanced Solarte to third to set up Derek Jeter with no one out. Jeter struck out in his first at-bat of his final home opener at Yankee Stadium, but he brought Solarte home to break the scoreless tie, though it did come on a 1-6-3 double play.
With one out in the fourth inning, Brett Gardner made a nice leaping catch in foul territory off the bat of Chris Davis. Adam Jones, who earlier reached on a single, smartly tagged up on the play and advanced to second. Matt Wieters then drove him in with a two-out single to tie the game at one.
The Yankees broke the 1-1 tie in the next half inning with a Solarte two-out RBI single that dropped right in front of Nick Markakis in right. This guy has been on fire from the first game of Spring Training; who knows how long he'll keep it up, but he's been really fun to watch so far. Anyway, scoring on the Solarte RBI was Alfonso Soriano, who reached on a hard-hit single earlier in the inning. Kelly Johnson drew a walk from Orioles' starter Ubaldo Jimenez as well.
New York added to their lead in the bottom of fifth, staring off with a hard-hit ball by Jeter that just missed going over the left field wall for a lead-off home run. Instead, the ball hit hard towards the top of the wall that resulted in a double. In fact, even Jeter thought it was gone, as he got out of the box slowly, but he was able to hustle into second safely. Batting third for the second-straight game, Jacoby Ellsbury scored Jeter from second by dropping a single into right, increasing the Yankees' lead to 3-1. Following the RBI, Ellsbury was ruled caught stealing trying to swipe second, but replays showed that Ellsbury got his foot just under Orioles' second baseman Ryan Flaherty's glove for the first out of the inning.
Nonetheless, the Yankees kept the inning alive with singles by Beltran and Soriano that were sandwiched around a long fly-out by Brian McCann to center. With his pitch count already up there, Jimenez walked Brian Roberts to load the bases. It was a terrific at-bat by Roberts, who fell behind 0-2 in the count before taking and fouling off tough pitches to ultimately work the walk. At 109 pitches already through just 4 2/3 innings, Jimenez was pulled in favor of reliever Zach Britton. The left-handed Kelly Johnson, facing the left-handed Zach Britton, drew a walk to extend New York's lead to 4-1. Solarte then grounded out with the bases loaded for the
second third out of the inning to end the threat.
After a sixth inning that resulted in a total of five ground outs, the Orioles crept closer with three straight hits by Chris Davis (ground-rule double), Matt Wieters (single), and Nelson Cruz (RBI single) to make the score 4-2. After Steve Lombardozzi lined out to left field, the Yankees pulled their starter, Hiroki Kuroda, in favor of Matt Thornton. Thornton was able to get a ground out off the bat of Ryan Flaherty, but the tying runs advanced into scoring position. Even after getting roughed up pretty badly against Houston and Toronto last week, David Phelps was summoned from the bullpen to get rookie Jonathan Schoop, and he rewarded Girardi's faith by inducing a grounder to end the frame.
It was announced after the game that David Robertson has a strained groin, so he will be placed on the disabled list. As a result, the Yankees used Adam Warren in a two-run game in the eighth and pushed Shawn Kelley from his eighth-inning role to the ninth. Starting with Warren, the right-hander pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts and a walk. However, Vidal Nuno was warming up after Warren issued a lead-off walk, and with Chris Davis up as the tying run with two out in the inning, Girardi stuck with Warren and he rewarded him with a strikeout to keep the score at 4-2. It's only been a couple of games, but Warren has done a very nice job pitching late in close games. Kelley then followed Warren with a nice and easy 1-2-3 inning to close out the ninth for his first career save.
Prior to all the bullpen activity, Hiroki Kuroda made the start and pitched pretty well once again. He got ahead of a lot of hitters and was able to induce plenty of ground balls (52.4% GB-rate, eight ground-outs to just four fly-outs). In total, the unofficial staff ace went 6 1/3 innings; allowed eight hits and two runs while striking out four and allowing no walks. This is the fourth straight game, in fact, that a Yankees' starter hasn't allowed a walk, going back to Ivan Nova's five-walk outing against Houston last week.
Although they didn't hit for much power, with Jeter's double being the team's only extra base hit (Solarte just missed an eighth-inning solo homer, but the wind knocked it down shy of the right field wall), the Yankees worked plenty of long at-bats in their victory. All told, the Yankees drew six walks and saw a total of 163 pitches; that is a very pleasant sight, considering we saw very little of this in 2013.
Next up, another matinee. On Tuesday the Yankees will face these same Orioles with Ivan Nova opposing Wei-Yin Chen at 1:05 PM. The Yankees are now above .500 for the first time, standing at 4-3, while the Orioles drop to 2-5.