BALTIMORE – The "matter of time" Aaron Boone and his players have been pledging for weeks would be here when it comes to a slumping offense might have arrived Tuesday.
Though not reflected in the run total, the Yankees hit the ball hard all night in accruing 12 hits, including homers by Aaron Judge, Kyle Higashioka and Giancarlo Stanton, in a 5-1 victory over the Orioles in front of 6,662 at Camden Yards.
Encouraging as that might have been for a floundering offense in need of good news, Corey Kluber’s performance pushed that aside as the evening’s most significant headline.
The 35-year-old righthander, who had not lasted more than 4 2/3 innings in any start this season – contributing the taxation of a Yankees bullpen that added another arm via trade Tuesday – went 6 2/3 innings.
"Our bullpen’s been unbelievable thus far this year, they've probably had to cover more innings that we’d all like," said Kluber, who earned his first win as a Yankee. "So for them to continue to have that success throughout the course of the season, I think as much as we can lessen their burden, the better."
Kluber, 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA over his first four starts, allowed one run, six hits and two walks. The veteran, who struck out five, seemed to tire at the end, allowing three of those hits in the sixth and seventh innings. He departed with two on and two outs in the seventh, but Jonathan Loaisiga continued his stellar start (a 1.23 ERA), getting Trey Mancin to ground out, ending the inning (he struck out three in the eighth, giving him 16 strikeouts compared with two walks in 14 2/3 innings).
"He’s been dominant down there," Aaron Boone said of Loaisiga, who earned a four-out save earlier in this trip in Cleveland and has clearly entered his manager’s circle of trust when it comes to the late innings.
One note to watch, which could become significant, was Boone replacing Judge in right for the bottom of the ninth, shifting Clint Frazier there from left.
Boone said Judge has been dealing with "lower body stuff" recently, causing him to be "pretty sore the last couple days," and that the rightfielder would likely get one of the next two days off.
Asked if the "lower body stuff" related to Judge’s feet, knees, hamstring or something else, Boone said: "Probably a little bit of all of it. I think he's just a little beat up on the trip. He's been out there a lot." Boone a couple of times said it was not something that, at the moment, concerned him.
The Yankees (10-13), meanwhile, scored in the first inning for just the second time this season.
DJ LeMahieu, slumping to start the season like most his teammates, led off with a double against overmatched Orioles lefty Bruce Zimmermann.. After Stanton grounded out Judge lashed a single to left. Gio Urshela’s sacrifice fly to center – the Yankees’ first sac fly of 2021 – brought in LeMahieu to make it 1-0.
Judge’s fifth homer made it 2-0 with one out in the third and Higashioka’s fourth homer, an opposite-field blast in the fourth, made it 3-0. After Rougned Odor grounded out, LeMahieu and Stanton singled and Judge walked to load the bases. In came righty Dillon Tate, a former Yankee, who allowed a two-out single to Urshela. LeMahieu scored to make it 4-0 but Stanton,was thrown out at the plate.
Through three innings the Yankees were outhitting the Orioles, 10-0.
That changed in the bottom of the fourth when Mancini led off with a double, went to third on DJ Stewart’s ground out and came home on Maikel Franco’s infield single to third, making it 4-1.
Stanton's leadoff homer in the seventh, his sixth, completed the scoring and a good night for the offense, which included Higashioka's second homer and third extra-base hit in three games.
"I know if I'm playing my best baseball, more than likely I'll end up finding more playing time," said Higashioka, whom Boone said before the game had "earned" more regular reps in the starting lineup. "My main focus is just going out there and playing my best every time."