Hurting Yankees look overmatched against robust Tigers

Shawn Kelley of the Yankees reacts after giving Shawn Kelley of the Yankees reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers in the seventh inning during the home opener at Comerica Park. (April 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City ...

DETROIT

Remember how bad things were for the Yankees six months ago at Comerica Park? Derek Jeter was in New York awaiting ankle surgery, Alex Rodriguez found himself on the bench and Robinson Cano was lost at the plate.

Total disarray, and the resulting ALCS sweep at the hands of the Tigers brought an almost merciful end to what felt inevitable by that point.

That was supposed to be rock-bottom for the AL East champs. We've now discovered, four games into the regular season, it wasn't even close.

In Friday's return to Comerica, the depleted Yankees got the beatdown most people anticipated. The man bringing the pain was Prince Fielder, who hit two home runs in the Tigers' 8-3 win, including one off Boone Logan that appeared to knock a fan unconscious.

And no, the middle-aged man was not wearing a Yankees cap.

The Tigers were better than the Yankees in October, and they're still better. Way better, actually, thanks to the offseason addition of Torii Hunter, the return to health of Victor Martinez and the crushing combo of Fielder and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. "Any one of them can do major damage at any time," Cano said. "Even the little guys can hit a home run."

Cano didn't specify, but next to Cabrera and Fielder, everyone else on the Tigers would be considered a "little guy." Their No. 8 hitter, Alex Avila, took Shawn Kelley about 25 rows deep into the rightfield seats in the sixth.

The home opener at Comerica Park was a party, and guess who was the piñata?

The Yankees are getting used to being on the wrong end of the stick, and they took another hit when Doug Fister nailed Eduardo Nuñez, who left in the fourth with a bruised right biceps. Though Nuñez is considered a liability at shortstop, how does the idea of Francisco Cervelli manning the position make you feel? Queasy?

As long as Nuñez is out, Jayson Nix will get the call at short. But Joe Girardi said Cervelli now is his backup infielder, and he didn't appear to be joking. After the Tigers whacked his ragtag crew around, it really wasn't that kind of vibe.

"Well, you can't lose everybody," Girardi said.

Says who? There was always the chance that Jeter wouldn't be ready for the start of the season, and to hear Girardi rewind the captain's rehab clock even further yesterday wasn't surprising. But no one could have imagined the prolonged absences of Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. As for A-Rod, we've stopped trying to figure out his timeline.

When pressed about his expectations during this unsettled period, Girardi said what he always does: "To win. I still believe that we have a team that can go out and play well and win games. That's our goal."

But the reality, when going toe-to-toe with a legit World Series contender like the Tigers, is something different -- and that's not a knock on Girardi, or any of the players just trying to fill a few of this team's gaping holes.

Kevin Youkilis even supplied a brief 3-2 edge with his first Yankees homer in the fifth, but the lead didn't even survive the inning, and the Tigers turned a tight game into a blowout by torching Girardi's bullpen for three home runs.

This visit to Comerica is startingto remind us of the last one. Obviously, there's not as much at stake. But the Yankees are reeling, and with the roster in its current state, they can't help but feel overmatched. Up next is Max Scherzer, followed by Justin Verlander in the series finale, and that's not chicken soup for what's ailing the Yankees.

Brian Cashman made the late call Friday to reroute Phil Hughes from a rehab start for Triple-A Scranton to returning to the rotation Saturday against the Tigers. That allows the Yankees to have David Phelps as insurance for a tired bullpen. With the way things have been going lately, odds are they'll need it.

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