Yankees not hitting in clutch

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Jayson Nix hits a solo home run off Jayson Nix hits a solo home run off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey in the fifth inning. (May 19, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

Jayson Nix is not supposed to be the Yankees' best clutch hitter.

But that's the way it has been going lately. That's the way it was Saturday as both Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson left the potential tying and winning runs on base in the ninth inning of a 6-5 loss to the Reds at Yankee Stadium, continuing a baffling team malaise with runners in scoring position.

Nix, the utilityman who got a start at second base to give Robinson Cano a DH day, went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs out of the ninth spot in the Yankees' order.

The top four in the lineup -- Jeter, Granderson, Cano and Alex Rodriguez -- went a combined 1-for-17 with no RBIs.

"Bottom's up!" is a great toast to make when you're having a beer with your buddies. It's not supposed to be how the $200-million Yankees' offense operates.

But the Yankees have been in a RISP funk all month. They were 2-for-7 Saturday, with both hits coming in the ninth, when they scored two runs against Reds closer Sean Marshall to pull within a run.

Nick Swisher had the first, an RBI single to center to make it 6-4. Nix had the second, an RBI single to left that made it 6-5 and left runners on first and second with one out.

That brought Jeter to the plate, 45,302 to their feet and Reds manager Dusty Baker to the mound. He replaced the lefthanded Marshall with righty Jose Arredondo, who had zero career saves.

Now he has one.

Jeter, the one Yankees regular hitting .300 in RISP situations coming in, grounded into a force play, with his toe touching first just ahead of the return throw.

That brought up Granderson, a .226 batter with runners in scoring position coming in. Jeter stole second as Granderson got ahead 3-and-0 before pulling a grounder foul. He then hit a fair one to first baseman Joey Votto, who beat Granderson to the bag by a step to end the game.

"We just didn't get the last hit that we needed," said manager Joe Girardi. "It's good that we were able to come back, but it's frustrating that you get so close and lose."

The Yankees' recent RISP numbers are staggering. For May, they are 23-for-138 (.167), the worst mark in the majors. In a shorter span, they are 5-for-55 (.091).

Is there an explanation to why Cano is at .176 in these situations? Why Rodriguez and Russell Martin are at .167? Why Swisher is at .222? Why the ailing and resting Mark Teixeira is at .205?

"I'm sure guys are thinking about it," Girardi said. "I mean, they're asked about it every day. I'm asked about it every day. I'm sure it's in their minds. Maybe what we were able to do in the ninth can start to turn things around a little bit . . . It'll turn, though. I know it will turn."

Other than Jeter, the only Yankees regular with respectable RISP numbers is Raul Ibanez, who is at .273.

"That's not really something that we really stress a lot about," Swisher said. "I know it's a big stat. People pay a lot of attention to it. We're more of a kind of play-for-the-home-run type of team. Obviously, when guys are in scoring position, we've got to drive those guys in."

The Yankees hit home runs -- 60 in 40 games after Martin, the No. 7 hitter, and Nix went deep with solo shots Saturday. Nix had two chances with runners in scoring position and cashed in the one in the ninth, making him 2-for-5 (.400) in those situations.

Chances are good, though, that Girardi will not put Nix in the cleanup spot Sunday. Or even in the lineup against righthander Johnny Cueto.

Because Jayson Nix is not supposed to be the Yankees' best clutch hitter.

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