Yankees’ Thinness on Mound Proves Costly

New York Yankees starting pitcher Shane Greene reacts after committing an error in the second inning of the Yankees 4-2 loss to the Texas Rangers Monday, July 21, 2014. Greene committed three of the Yankees five errors in the game.
New York Yankees starting pitcher Shane Greene reacts after committing an error in the second inning of the Yankees 4-2 loss to the Texas Rangers Monday, July 21, 2014. Greene committed three of the Yankees five errors in the game. –AP Photo/Kathy Willens

NEW YORK — Things seemed to be humming along quite nicely for Shane Greene, the unheralded New York Yankees prospect who had looked so sharp in his first two starts and now a third, picking up where he left off more than a week ago in Baltimore.

Then a ball came dribbling back toward him on the mound, and in his haste, he tossed it 4 feet over the first baseman’s head.

Greene’s face turned ashen, and he crouched down, panicked, as if he had just smacked a foul ball through his neighbor’s window. Only there was nowhere to scamper off to.

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This seemed like a convenient reminder that Monday was the 46th time a rookie pitcher had started a game for the Yankees, twice as many as any other team in baseball. And although that particular defensive mishap did not wind up costing Greene — he collected himself to strike out the next batter and end the second inning — it did seem to signify his unsteadiness in his first home appearance. He ultimately committed three errors, the most by a Yankees pitcher since 1988, in a 4-2 loss to the Texas Rangers.

The Yankees as a team committed five errors — their most in a game since 2007 — in a sloppy loss to the team with baseball’s worst record coming into Monday’s game. And without two key pieces to their lineup (Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira), the bats fell silent, too.

McCann was given the night off after working the weekend, but Teixeira sat out again with another injury concern, this time to his lower back.

Teixeira, 34, a first baseman, said before the game that he had been experiencing back spasms since the team’s series in Oakland more than a month ago but that the pain had “ratcheted up’’ during the weekend. A magnetic resonance imaging examination performed Sunday revealed a minor strain to a latissimus dorsi muscle.

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Teixeira was supposed to receive an injection of platelet-rich plasma to stimulate the healing process, and manager Joe Girardi said the team would hold off on placing Teixeira on the disabled list for now.

“I think if we were really concerned, we’d put him on the DL right away,’’ Girardi said. “We’re hoping that after three or four days, maybe he feels OK, maybe we can get him back in there.’’

Although he leads the team in home runs and runs batted in, Teixeira missed 14 games in April with a hamstring strain, and he has sat out with problems in his knee and wrist as well. He missed all but 15 games last season because of a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist that required surgery.

He said that might have factored into the number of health problems he has experienced through the first 98 games of this season.

“I thought the year off last year would kind of give me a fountain of youth,’’ Teixeira said. “It’s just made me rusty. I’ve used that word a few times this year, but that’s the way it feels. Every game, it’s something. You deal with the hamstring early, knee, back. It’s really frustrating.’’

In the interim, the Yankees started Kelly Johnson at first base, and he had an adventure in the field, handling (or attempting to handle) several errant throws by Greene and Derek Jeter.

“It was an ugly game on our part,’’ Girardi said. “Our defense was bad. We didn’t swing the bats particularly well.’’

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The trouble for Greene began in the second, when he fumbled a toss from Johnson on a ground ball by Leonys Martin. Then came the comebacker, with two outs, and his toss sailed into right field.

The crowd let out an audible gasp, and Greene looked somewhat humiliated. He crouched for a moment before realizing he needed to back up home plate with a runner rounding second base.

He had pitched so confidently in his first two starts, breezing through the Orioles’ lineup July 12, five days after he had stymied the Cleveland Indians to earn his first career win. But the inexperience shone through Monday, and such is the situation Girardi must contend with as four-fifths of his starting rotation is on the disabled list.

A dropped double-play ball by second baseman Brian Roberts allowed the first Rangers run to score and added more stress to Greene’s outing. He wound up being knocked out in the sixth after the Rangers rallied with two outs to tie the score at 2-2 with a walk and two singles.

Greene’s replacement, Matt Thornton, then promptly surrendered back-to-back, run-scoring singles to Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo to give the Rangers a two-run lead.

Asked after the game if the errors had hurt his performance, Greene answered tersely, “Not at all.’’ His voice barely carried above a muffled whisper as he supplied mainly clipped responses.

Girardi spoke for him, saying the defensive mistakes had had a trickle-down effect, adding more stress and more pitches to Greene’s outing.

“He was at like 80 and probably should’ve been through the sixth inning,’’ Girardi said. “It finally caught up to him.’’

Jacoby Ellsbury hit a solo home run in the fourth for the Yankees, but the offense was otherwise quiet. Jeter grounded into a double play with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth.

“We needed a double play,’’ Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I don’t care who it is. It could have been Babe up there, I wanted a double play.’’

Miles Mikolas, making just his fourth career start for Texas, retired his final seven batters in order before leaving with one out in the eighth.