Obvious enough are the gray areas in this 51-43 Yankees season: all those aging veterans absent with various infirmities. But beyond the need to keep fielding a lineup of virtual strangers, another problem in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins was righthander Phil Hughes' long-ball vulnerabilities, which seem to remain forever young.
The exasperating fact was that, except for three of Hughes' pitches -- which were turned into home runs, accounting for all of Minnesota's runs -- he had been mostly untouchable through 71/3 innings.
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"He had some of the better stuff he's had all season," manager Joe Girardi said of Hughes (4-9, 4.57 ERA). "His off-speed was really effective, he was under 100 pitches and, going into the seventh, he'd given up just three hits . . .
"I thought he threw the ball exceptionally well."
He had struck out 10 -- matching his career high -- walked only one and faced only three batters beyond the minimum through seven innings. But he also equaled his personal nadir of allowing three homers: a solo homer by Trevor Plouffe in the second inning, bases-empty shot by Ryan Doumit in the seventh -- it barely reached the seats in the close rightfield stands -- and Pedro Florimon's one-out, two-run blow in the eighth, after Aaron Hicks' bunt single.
That sent Hughes packing.
"I feel I'm throwing the ball pretty well," Hughes said. "It's those one or two mistakes I have to stay away from. When you look back, every hard-hit ball was a home run. When am I going to get a hard single up the middle?"
When, too, will the team's pitching imperfections not so readily expose the Yankees' wimpy offense? After a quick first-inning run -- Ichiro Suzuki doubled and Robinson Cano singled him home -- the Yankees produced a mere six hits, five of those singles.
The closest they came to scoring again was when pinch hitter Travis Hafner doubled in the seventh inning and his pinch runner, Eduardo Nuñez, moved to third on an infield out. But Brett Gardner grounded weakly to winning pitcher Samuel Deduno (5-4) to end the inning.
"I don't think a pitcher can say, 'I'm going to get six [runs] today, so I can give up five," Girardi said. "They understand that. I think we can be better [on offense], but it's not an offense that's going to average six runs a game.
"Pitchers are going to make mistakes. It's just, in a game like this, you can't."
Especially with a team like this. The ephemeral, Halley's comet-like appearance of Derek Jeter on Thursday was a reminder of the Yankees' advanced age, and Girardi acknowledged, "I have to be cognizant of that."
"Some of our players aren't as youthful as some of the others," Girardi said. "I've got to be careful and be smart about it."
That means more rest for the elderly and, for those returning from long rehabilitation programs -- which seems like everyone who is anyone -- Girardi might tell them to run out ground balls at, say, 80 percent. Or, should they not slide?
Girardi said he would talk specifically to Jeter, whenever he makes another return, regarding the veteran's latest malady, a strained right quadriceps, by telling the captain: "You've got to guard it for a little while. But, what do you tell a guy? Make an out? Don't slide? You gotta play the game."
Furthermore, they have to work with what they have. Hughes reminded that, whenever he misses with a high pitch: "It's a fly ball. That's just part of who I am." No gray areas there.