By Anthony Locicero - New York Sports Examiner Reporter

I posed the following question at the end of my recap of the New York Yankees’ Friday, 7-0, win over the Oakland Athletics: Is this a fluky stretch by what has been a mediocre team, or the start of bigger and better things?

There was the hope the Yanks finally turned the corner. But as the final two games of the series showed, New York isn’t in the same class as the A’s.

Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.41 ERA) seems to be coming into his own, and David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) turned in one his best starts on Friday night. Things were certainly looking up.

But on Saturday, Hiroki Kuroda (4.2 IP, 5H, 4ER) looked like the pitcher that faded during the second half of the 2013 season. And Sunday, Vidal Nuno turned in a clunker – reminiscent of his poor outings against Baltimore April 8 (3.1 IP, 8H, 7ER, 2 HR) and the Mets on May 13 (3.1 IP, 4H, 7R, 5ER, HR) – in his club’s 10-5 loss to Oakland.

Nuno, the 26-year old lefty, gave up eight earned runs and surrendered two more long balls – both three-run blasts by Derek Norris and Coco Crisp – upping his season total to 20. It was Nuno’s shortest outing of the season and was once again a display of his knack for running up a high pitch count early in games.

Injuries to Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia have left the Yankee rotation very thin. But is Nuno (1-3, 5.90 ERA) deserving of another start?

New York’s options are limited, meaning Nuno, who had a 1.80 road ERA heading into Sunday, will likely get a few more turns – unless the Yankees make a trade for an arm.

Asked if Nuno will be trotted out there every fifth day for the time being, Manager Joe Girardi replied, “Well, we haven’t made any changes.
“We’ve just gotta find a way to get it done,” the Yankee skipper added.

The pitching wasn’t the only problem over the weekend, however. After exploding for seven runs Friday, the Bombers tallied an unearned run in Saturday’s 5-1 loss and the bats were held in check Sunday by Oakland starter Jesse Chavez, who pitched six innings of five-hit, one-run ball.

On Sunday, the Yankees, already in a 10-0 hole after four, were able to get to the A’s bullpen. It is the one weak spot on an otherwise quality club that has an American League-leading 42-27 record and +132 run differential.

In the sixth, first baseman Mark Teixeira clocked a RBI double to deep left to give the Yankees their first run of the game. He now has a modest five-game hit streak and said he felt better after missing a game due to a back spasm.

Designated hitter Carlos Beltran is in the midst of a 6-for-35 slide over his last nine games since returning from the DL, but did record his first homer since April 22 – a 401-foot solo shot in the top of the seventh. The injury-prone Beltran is batting just .221 on the year and has an unsightly .267 on-base percentage. But he also singled and after the game said he’s feeling “good.”

"I feel good," Beltran said. "I feel rhythm at the plate. It was positive the way I feel. I hit the ball hard every at-bat, so hopefully I can build from that."

Brett Gardner launched a two-run shot to right in the top of the ninth for the final margin of the game.

The Yanks continue to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 2-for-7 on the day. As mentioned, Beltran and fellow Yankee newcomer Brian McCann have struggled at the dish. Ichiro is the lone Bomber regular batting over .300. Gardner is batting .281 and now has five homers – one less than Beltran. Yangervis Solarte has cooled off again – he’s hitless in his last 18 at-bats and is batting just .178 in June – but his average still sits at a respectable .274.

Jacoby Ellsbury’s 17-game hit streak came to an end Saturday and the center fielder followed up a 0-for-3 outing with a 0-for-4 game Sunday. But he’s still at .282 for the season.

The Yankees finished their road trip with a 5-4 record, which includes a sweep of the Mariners. New York (35-33) has a chance to make up some ground on the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays, as both clubs begin a three-game set Tuesday night in the Bronx. For what it’s worth, New York is a sub-.500 team at home with a record of 13-16.

The Yankees trail the Jays by 4.5 games, but have a shot at taking the opener with Masahiro Tanaka on the hill. The rookie hurler is 10-1 with a sterling 2.02 ERA, which leads the AL. He has pitched at least six innings in each of his 13 starts and has failed to record a decision in just two. The 25-year old Japanese import is coming off his first complete game, having throw nine innings of six-hit, two-run ball against Seattle.

Tanaka has pitched against the Blue Jays once this season – his first start on April 4. The right-hander emerged victorious, tossing seven innings of six-hit ball, allowing two earned runs in a 7-3 Yankee victory.
 

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