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Unfamiliar pitcher, familiar result for Yankees

Unfamiliar pitcher, familiar result for Yankees

NEW YORK -- Following Sunday's shutout loss to the Royals, manager Joe Girardi said he was tired of discussing the Yankees' struggles against pitchers they had not seen before.

Girardi's team, then, did him no favors on Monday, when a punchless offense sent the Yankees to their second consecutive loss, 3-1, at the hands of Max Scherzer and the Tigers.

The Yankees' woes against starters with whom they are unfamiliar has moved swiftly from fluke through coincidence all the way to trend. Over the last two games, it's grown into something of an albatross around their necks, one growing increasingly difficult to explain or, it seems, to solve.

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The latest theory, espoused on Monday by both Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher, was that the added adrenaline of playing the Yankees could add a mile or two to opponents' fastballs and allow them to pitch differently on the field than on video.

Scherzer, of course, doesn't need much help in the velocity department. The hard-thrower shut the Yankees out over six innings, yielding only two hits while striking out six and walking two. Scherzer is at least more accomplished to this point in his career than Bryan Bullington, the Royals' starter who hurled eight two-hit innings at the Yankees on Sunday to earn his first big league win.

Only a late rally against a wild Jose Valverde prevented the Yankees from being shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since the Clinton administration -- May 1999 to be more specific.

"[Scherzer's] got good stuff. There's no doubt about it," Girardi said. "We made him work. We just weren't able to string a lot of hits. Right now, we're just not swinging the bats very well. It's something you go through during the course of the season."

Girardi, for his part, didn't seem quite as frustrated on Monday as he did a day earlier. Perhaps it was due to the resistance his offense did put up in the later innings, with the Yankees placing multiple runners on in each of the final three frames once Scherzer had departed.

"He was tremendous, but we needed one more inning out of him," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of Scherzer. "We just need one more inning with that same pitch count. It just changes everything and how you are able to deal with the bullpen."

The Yankees, however, were unable to cash in those opportunities. In the seventh, Ryan Perry induced a grounder to short from Francisco Cervelli with runners on second and third. An inning later, Valverde entered to get a grounder to short from Marcus Thames -- pinch-hitting for Ramiro Pena in the cleanup spot because Alex Rodriguez had left earlier with tightness in his left calf.

Rodriguez and Swisher, who departed in the sixth inning with a tight right forearm, are each day-to-day.

Although the Bombers broke through in the ninth against Valverde, it's hard to assign them much of the credit. Valverde walked three batters around a Curtis Granderson single -- one of three knocks on the night for the center fielder -- to force in a run before inducing a game-ending double play from Jeter.

It was the first time Jeter had ever grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end a game.

"We're not swinging the bats like we'd like to," said Jeter, who had a base hit in five trips. "We've got to find ways to score runs."

The offensive struggles aren't exactly a long-term problem; the Yankees did score eight runs two days ago and seven more three days before that. But it has been enough over these last two games to drop the Yankees back into a first-place tie with Tampa Bay and spoil solid nights from the pitching staff.

Javier Vazquez's outing on Monday is hard to evaluate. He allowed only two earned runs, but he completed only four innings while tossing 106 pitches. Vazquez gave up five hits and walked four, but he somehow limited the damage to a Ryan Raburn two-run homer to left field in the second inning.

Vazquez blamed his issues on a complete inability to command his changeup.

"My changeup was terrible all day," Vazquez said. "I couldn't throw my changeup for strikes. I didn't locate it."

Without his best secondary pitch, Vazquez couldn't put hitters away. Of his 64 strikes on the evening, only 11 were called and 34 were foul balls. He needed at least 23 pitches to get through each inning, and he required at least seven pitches for a hitter four times.

"With as many opportunities as they had, they probably could have blown us out," Girardi said. "Javy, with the struggles that he had, he kept us in the game and did a good job."

Vazquez did say that he felt some life on his fastball again after two subpar outings in terms of velocity. He was clocked around 88 mph most of the evening with his fastball, reaching 90 a handful of times.

After the game, Girardi didn't focus as much on the specifics of this defeat -- "A loss is frustrating no matter what," he said -- but instead looked forward to Tuesday. After all, the Yankees have seen Justin Verlander before.

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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