Rookie pitcher from Cuba leads Mariners to sweep over Yankees

Rich Mancuso

Roenis Elias was not supposed to get the start for the Seattle Mariners in their three-game series against the Yankees in the Bronx. Felix Hernandez was supposed to close the three-game series the night before, but rain forced a postponement. The 25-year old left-hander got his opportunity Thursday night.

Perhaps, the Yankees would have preferred Hernandez. Because Elias, a defector from Cuba, in his sixth professional start gave the Yankees more than were looking for as the Mariners swept the abbreviated two-game series, 4-2.  After giving up a first inning home run to Jacoby Ellsbury, the first for the Yankees center fielder, he used a curve and fastball that were impressive.

He tossed seven-innings, struck out a career high 10, allowing two runs and six hits. And only one run was earned due to a Mariners error in the third inning. Elias was impressive and the spotlight of pitching at Yankee Stadium added no added pressure. Of the 110 pitches he threw, 73 went for strikes.

The Mariners won their fourth straight at Yankee Stadium going back to last season. But the story was Elias who made an impression on Yankees manager Joe Girardi. The Yankees could not deal with the fastball and curve. After the sixth inning, they did not get a hit until pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki got a two-out single in the ninth off closer Fernando Rodney.

"He was hitting his spots. He was getting ahead. He pitched a good game. He's got a good arm,” said the Yankees Derek Jeter about the rookie pitcher. "Sometimes pitchers are going to be better than you. He threw really well. He's not a typical lefty who tries to trick you. He gets it up there pretty good.”

Said Girardi: “He used his fastball and curve effectively…pretty good stuff.” After the Ellsbury home run, Elias, who spent last year pitching for Double- A Jackson with 14 of 22 quality starts, limited the Yankees to five hits.

“The adrenaline comes from the spotlight," Elias said through a translator."I've never been to the stadium so it was good to come here and beat the Yankees. I've seen it on TV but never been here."  Elias became the third rookie pitcher at Yankee Stadium to strike out ten or more batters at Yankee Stadium.

The manager, Lloyd McClendon had Elias slated to pitch this weekend. The rain-out moved Hernandez to another day and Elias got his chance. He got the call Wednesday night from pitching Coach Rick Waits Wednesday night that he would get the ball.

“The young man threw a tremendous game,” commented McClendon. “We thought he'd be OK in this environment. The young man is tough."

Facing Derek Jeter and the Yankees, especially for the first time is a challenge. The fastball was clocked over 90 and the curve had the Yankees hitters fooled. Throw in the fact that the Yankees are having issues getting the timely hit and again they had to come from behind. Elias made sure to keep his composure.

All of the first 28 batters he faced saw strikes.

“You have to get ready mentally,” said Elias who uses the fastball as his number one pitch. “After a couple of innings I felt more comfortable and took control.

Girardi did not seem concerned that his offense went cold. “It’s early in the season,” he said. “Obviously consistency is important. It will come.” He has to be more concerned about the state of his starting pitching. Hiroki Kuroda (2-3) gave up four runs, three earned on seven hits in six innings. In his previous start, Friday night against the Angels, he gave up a career- high eight runs in 4.21 innings, in a Yankees 13-1 loss.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," Girardi said. "A lot of nights that's going to be good enough to win."

But it was not good enough for the Yankees who welcome division rival Tampa Bay to the Bronx for the next three games. The rotation is struggling also with Ivan Nova disabled for the season and Michael Pineda serving a suspension and headed to the disabled list.

 As for Robinson Cano, his return to the Bronx was met with boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd. And in two games, he went 2-for-9 with three runs batted in. His double and two RBI were the difference Thursday night.

“Both days felt good because both days we won, so it has to feel good," Cano said. "There weren't any expectations from the crowd today. I just wanted to go out and take care of business. You have to understand the fans, but it is not going to be a distraction for me."

But Cano and the Yankees were not the story this night. A kid from Cuba, named Elias, may have turned himself into a pitching sensation at Yankee Stadium.

Comment Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com  Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso