DETROIT -- Just about everyone agreed during spring training that the Yankees' pitching would give them a chance.
Instead, it's been about on par with their hitting.
And no, that's not a good thing.
It's early, of course, but heading into Saturday's game, the Yankees ranked last in the AL in ERA (6.43) -- and that inched upward in an 8-4 loss at Comerica Park that dropped the Yankees to 1-4. Now they're staring 1-5 in the face; CC Sabathia faces Tigers ace Justin Verlander on Sunday as the Yankees try to avoid a three-game sweep.
"We need to get some distance out of these guys,'' Joe Girardi said of the rotation. "That would be helpful.''
In the games started by pitchers not named Andy Pettitte, the Yankees have allowed eight, seven, eight and eight runs. Their starting pitchers in those games have totaled 15 innings and allowed 13 earned runs.
Phil Hughes, bumped from a final minor-league rehab start out of "necessity'' to protect an already taxed bullpen, Girardi said, couldn't get an out in the fifth inning in his 2013 debut. The righthander allowed an unearned run in the first after an error by shortstop Jayson Nix and then was merely OK, allowing four runs, eight hits and no walks and striking out four in four innings-plus.
"Obviously in spring training, it looked like a strength of our club, our pitching,'' said Hughes, who flew to Detroit from Tampa Friday night. "It's gotten off to a slow start. We have to do a better job as starters and keep our team in the game, and we haven't done that early on.''
"We definitely need to get it turned around, there's no doubt about that. We need to get these guys throwing well,'' Girardi said of the bullpen. "In the short term, it's been somewhat of a struggle, but I have a lot of confidence in them.''
The Tigers pounded 17 hits, with Miguel Cabrera going 4-for-4 with a walk and Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter picking up three hits each, making the top three batters in the Tigers' order 10-for-14 with seven runs scored and two RBIs. Prince Fielder drove in two runs, giving him seven RBIs in two games against the Yankees.
The Yankees had six hits, including Vernon Wells' homer, giving them 35 hits in five games, a .219 batting average, a .309 on-base percentage and a .375 slugging percentage.
"We have guys that are capable of putting up numbers and we just have to stay within ourselves and try and be a little more consistent, have better at-bats top to bottom,'' said Wells, hitting .286 with two homers, four RBIs and a .375 OBP. "That goes for all of us. When we get opportunities to drive runners in, we can come through.''
The Yankees failed to take full advantage of two good chances.
One pitch after Wells homered to tie the score at 1-1 with none out in the second inning, Brennan Boesch tripled off the leaping Hunter's glove in rightfield. But after catching Francisco Cervelli's fly to medium right, Hunter made a one-hop throw to the plate to easily nail former Tiger Boesch, who sent catcher Alex Avila's mask flying in the collision at the plate.
Trailing 5-2 in the sixth, the Yankees loaded the bases with none out, but Boesch's liner to first was turned into a double play by Fielder. Cervelli drew the fourth walk of the inning to set up Overbay's two-run single, but Nix grounded into a forceout to end the inning.
The bullpen continued to let it get away from there, increasing the deficit from 5-4 to 8-4.
"When you go through periods like this, it can be frustrating,'' Wells said. "But we're all professionals. We'll get through this.''