Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner back Brandon McCarthy as Yankees power past Reds

Brian McCann of the Yankees celebrates his ninth-inning,
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Brian McCann of the Yankees celebrates his ninth-inning, game-winning hit against the Cincinnati Reds with teammate Zelous Wheeler at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, July 20, 2014.(Credit: Jim McIsaac)

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After returning from the All-Star break, Joe Girardi was asked on Friday what the Yankees need to do to make a run in the second half.

His answer: Get more consistent offense. And more length from the starting pitching. Not complicated.

Two games in, the Yankees have done both.

Brandon McCarthy struck out nine in six innings in his second Yankees start, Carlos Beltran homered and Brett Gardner drove in three runs Saturday as the Yankees won their second in a row, beating the Reds, 7-1, before 47,606 at Yankee Stadium.

McCarthy, who was acquired from Arizona for Vidal Nuño on July 6, allowed one run, six hits and no walks in a 99-pitch effort (71 strikes). He struck out the side in the fourth and sixth.

"He was doing whatever he wanted to on the mound today,'' catcher Brian McCann said.

In his first start July 9 in Cleveland, McCarthy allowed four runs (one earned) in 62/3 innings in a no-decision. He was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA with the Diamondbacks but has a 1.42 ERA in his two Yankees starts. He said he has rediscovered the cutter he was forced to abandon in Arizona, and that pitch has helped set up his signature sinker.

"I'm happy that we won both games,'' he said. "In Arizona, that was not the case.''

Beltran returned to the lineup with two hits Friday after a stint on the seven-day concussion disabled list even though he said he didn't have a concussion. He kick-started the Yankees' offense Saturday with a solo home run to right in the second inning against All-Star Alfredo Simon (12-4, 2.74 ERA). It was Beltran's 10th.

Brian Roberts led off the third with a fly ball to right-center that Jay Bruce flat-out dropped for a two-base error. After Kelly Johnson moved Roberts to third with a grounder to second, the Reds pulled the infield in and Gardner made it 2-0 with a single past diving second baseman Kristopher Negron.

Chris Heisey hit a long homer to left in the fifth to cut the Yankees' lead in half, but another Reds miscue helped the Yankees to two runs and a 4-1 lead in the bottom half.

Roberts and Johnson started the inning with singles. When Gardner attempted to sacrifice, Devin Mesoraco missed an inside pitch for a passed ball and the runners advanced. Gardner then hit a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right before Derek Jeter stroked an RBI single to center. Jeter (1-for-3, walk) is batting .311 since June 10 and .275 overall.

In the sixth, Johnson grounded a two-run single over first base against J.J. Hoover and Gardner followed with another sacrifice fly, this one to left, to give the Yankees a 7-1 lead.

"I thought we took advantage of some miscues on their part,'' Girardi said. "We had some just really good at-bats, guys moving runners over, getting some big hits when we needed to. But it was just good at-bats and we faced a good pitcher today.''

The Yankees (49-47) are 7-7 in regular-season games against Cincinnati. Before Saturday, the Reds were the only franchise with a winning regular-season record against the Yankees.

The Yankees got 61/3 innings from David Phelps in Friday night's 4-3 victory, and McCarthy gave them another quality start. With Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia having joined Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda on the shelf -- that's four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation -- Girardi is trying to patch together a rotation with Phelps, McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda and rookies Shane Greene and Chase Whitley, who have 13 major-league starts between them.

The Yankees are no strangers to injuries the last few seasons (just ask them). They know they have to overcome them to play in October.

"I think guys understand it's part of the game,'' Girardi said. "Sitting around and worrying about it's not going to help you. Someone has to step up and go do a good job for your club. You don't want guys to try to do too much. Just everyone try to pick up the slack a little bit. They're pretty good at it.''

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