David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Vernon Wells actually felt lucky Saturday at Comerica Park. Not about his home run off Max Scherzer, an inside fastball that he tomahawked into the leftfield seats. No, Wells was fortunate that Prince Fielder, all 275 pounds of him, narrowly missed stepping on his fingers as he unsuccessfully dived back toward first base.
"I'd be crying,'' Wells said.
In an otherwise quiet Yankees clubhouse, with the TVs off although the Louisville-Wichita State game was under way, Wells laughed along with the reporters cracking up at his joke.
It's only the first week of the season, and the Yankees weren't freaking out after dropping to 1-4 with an 8-4 loss to the Tigers.
Most people expected this type of start anyway. The disturbing part is not the record as much as it is the reasons for it. Aside from Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera -- the two people most responsible for the only win -- the rotation and bullpen have been awful.
Through five games, the staff's 6.49 ERA is the worst in the American League, two whole runs higher than the Astros. Only the Phillies, at 7.68, are beneath them overall. Phil Hughes was flown in from Tampa to make his debut Saturday and failed to record an out in a four-run fifth that wound up deciding the outcome.
Hughes gave up three straight hits that resulted in a pair of runs and Fielder teed off on Boone Logan for the second time in as many games. Unlike Friday, Logan kept Fielder in the park. But his single loaded the bases, setting up two more runs.
Hughes was rushed to Detroit to bump David Phelps to the bullpen, and neither move worked out very well. In the end, it wouldn't have made much of a difference if Hughes had made his rehab start at Triple-A Scranton, as scheduled. But he denied the abrupt switch in plans had anything to do with his subpar outing. "There's no excuses at this level,'' he said.
Easy for Hughes to say. What about Joe Girardi? Through no fault of his own, he's not off to the best of starts for a lame-duck manager in the walk year of his contract. As much as Girardi enjoys micromanaging, there's nobody on the other end of that phone who has shown he can get an out. And without any length from his starters, this is not a winning formula. Or even a competitive one right now.
"We'll get that turned around,'' Girardi said. "These guys will throw the ball better. I'm convinced of that.''
The Yankees may be at the bottom pitching-wise, but they seem to be leading MLB in optimism. That's the benefit of early April, with the anticipation of injured players returning and nearly an entire season of games remaining. It's impossible to fall out of contention before May, and they can keep talking as though this is nothing to fret about. "We're all professionals,'' Wells said. "We'll get through this.''
The funny thing is that Wells, along with fellow replacements Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay, are doing what's being asked of them. Wells led off the second inning with a tying homer and Overbay had a double and a two-out, two-run single that trimmed the Yankees' deficit to 5-4 in the sixth. Youkilis, who doubled and scored a run, is batting .389 (7-for-18) with three doubles and a homer.
In the past, the Yankees had the firepower to make up for lackluster pitching performances. But not right now, and there's no telling when they might get the players back who will make up for the current imbalance.
"We need to do more offensively,'' Wells said. "We have guys that are capable of putting up numbers.''
It sounds good, and maybe Wells will turn out to be right. But if the rotation doesn't tighten things up, starting with CC Sabathia in Sunday's series finale -- against Justin Verlander, no less -- the talk won't be so upbeat.
Sabathia's velocity was down in Monday's opener, and if that doesn't improve, any questions involving the ace will increase.
As they will about the Yankees as a whole.