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Gotham stakes always up

Colon flap latest issue to fall in Yankees’ lap

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 13, 2011

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NEW YORK — An issue a day keeps the Yankees from going astray?

Something like that.

There’s always something trailing the Yankees, who seem to thrive on distractions.

First it was Derek Jeter’s swing. Then it was Phil Hughes’s injury and Rafael Soriano’s ineffectiveness. And the last couple of days, it has been Bartolo Colon’s controversial medical procedure last April.

The New York Times reported that Major League Baseball is looking into a procedure, conducted in the Dominican Republic, in which stem cells were injected into Colon’s right shoulder and elbow to regenerate the tissue. Dr. Joseph R. Purita acknowledged using human growth hormone in similar procedures, but denied using HGH in Colon’s procedure, so as to comply with MLB rules.

According to a medical baseball source, there would not be any way for MLB investigators to prove HGH was used in Colon’s treatment.

“I got a call from his agent as a courtesy call making me aware The New York Times was running a story,’’ said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “It was the first time I’ve heard about it. I called MLB immediately. That was it.’’

Asked whether he thought there was any truth to the story, Cashman said, “I wouldn’t be able to say. He was out of the game and I don’t know. I’m not an expert on medical procedures. He’s thrown extremely well.’’

Colon, 37, who will start against the Red Sox tonight, had issues with his rotator cuff and elbow when he pitched for Boston in 2008. After rest and repair, Colon has been very effective in his role with the Yankees, going 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA.

Colon went 4-2 with a 3.92 ERA for the Red Sox in seven starts in 2008, but physical and personal issues caused him to leave the team. He made 12 starts with the White Sox in 2009 before being released, missed all of 2010, and then signed with the Yankees after pitching well for Tony Pena’s team in the Dominican winter league.

Cashman said that while Colon doesn’t overpower batters the way he did when he won the AL Cy Young Award with the Angels in 2005, “He’s got that comebacker against lefthanders that’s so effective.’’

Cashman calls Colon and veteran Freddy Garcia “a gift from above.’’ Garcia, another unsung signing, is 2-2 with a 2.61 ERA and will start the series finale Sunday night.

“Our scouts were talking to me about what they saw from Bartolo in winter ball,’’ said Cashman. “After calling Tony Pena, who also confirmed what our scouts were saying, we stayed on him and eventually invited him. Our scouts put their name on it and said this guy was worth a nonroster invite. He is throwing better now than he was in winter ball.’’

Jeter said both Garcia and Colon have been life savers for the Yankees.

“You forget how good these guys are,’’ Jeter said. “They’ve been tremendous for us. Bartolo is throwing well. His ball is moving, he throws hard, throws strikes, fun to play behind, goes after guys, he hasn’t walked too many. Same from Freddy. I remember facing them and they’re not fun at-bats.’’

Jeter has revved up his game of late, and talk of his demise is no longer filling the back pages of the tabloids. Yesterday, Jeter politely declined to speak on the topic of his slow start, but as for the Red Sox’ struggles, he said he fully expects them to be contenders.

“It’s what, 35 games? We have a long way to go,’’ he said. “There’s talent on that team that will rise to its level. They always do. They’re always there and we’re not expecting anything different.’’

“That’s a very good team,’’ echoed Mark Teixeira. “And their record is not indicative of their talent. I’ve always said that the season doesn’t start for the fans in New York until the first series here with the Red Sox. That’s when people really get excited around here and it’s going to be a great weekend.’’

The Yankees have been concerned with Jorge Posada, who is hitting only .162 as the full-time DH. Posada has six homers and 15 RBIs, but it’s obvious he hasn’t adjusted to his new role after losing the starting catching job.

“We hope he does figure it out,’’ Cashman said. “Offensively he’s learning a new role, which is not guaranteed. It doesn’t mean we’re hopeful he’ll take to it. Being a DH is something different, and not everyone can do it. He’s going through his growing pains but he’s still Jorge Posada and I assume he’ll figure it out.’’

Posada said he has yet to establish a routine, and he referred to DHing as “pinch hitting four times.’’

With the struggling Soriano dealing with elbow inflammation, the Yankees are vulnerable in the bullpen. Their only lefthander, Boone Logan, has had problems getting lefties out. The Sox have five lefthanders in their lineup.

Cashman feels he can make a deal at the trade deadline if needed. The Yankees have chips to deal for a pitcher like Derek Lowe, or could even shoot higher for a Felix Hernandez. Cashman also said veteran righty Carlos Silva, pitching at Double A, is insurance for the rotation.

The Yankees have been hovering around first place for most of the season, but as we witnessed in last night’s 11-5 loss to the Royals, they have their issues.

And sometimes that’s a good thing.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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