The good vibes generated by Alfonso Soriano’s return to the Yankees on Friday night did not even last until he took his first at-bat. By the time that Soriano, who was earlier in the day officially acquired from the Cubs for Single-A pitcher Corey Black, stepped to the plate for the first time in pinstripes since the 2003 World Series – wearing the same uniform number, 12, that he wore back then, thanks to the yielding of it by Vernon Wells – the Yankees already trailed the surging Rays 6-0, and were well on their way to a 10-6 loss. The crowd was too shell-shocked to do much more than politely applaud him—which was fitting, because the fans had already been reminded that the 37-year-old Soriano won't fill the club’s holes by himself.
Yes, Soriano, who went 0-for-5 on Friday (twice he came up with the bases loaded), will provide the Yankees with some badly needed right-handed power. They still haven’t had a righty hit a home run since Jayson Nix did it on June 25 – Soriano has since then slugged ten by himself – and that powerless streak is just symptomatic of a deeper problem. Right-handed Yankees batters, pre-Soriano, combined for an OPS of .594, easily the worst in the league, to go with a batting average of .221 (second to last) and just 24 homers (last). Soriano will help ameliorate that one-dimensionality, as will the impending return of Derek Jeter from the disabled list. Jeter is eligible to return as soon as tomorrow.
What Soriano will do nothing to solve is the Yankees’ pitching woes. Hiroki Kuroda has been magnificent – his 2.51 ERA trails only Felix Hernandez’s in the A.L. – but New York has suddenly had a terrible problem finding consistency from its rotation’s other four spots, and their rotational depth was something that was supposed to be a fundamental strength all season long.
CC Sabathia, the putative ace, was dreadful once again Friday, as he allowed seven runs on nine hits over five innings to boost his ERA up to 4.65. That all the innings his 33-year-old body has accumulated over the years – 1,546 of them since 2007, which is 52 more than anyone else – have finally started to catch up with him has gone from the realm of the theoretical into that of fact. Sabathia has already allowed five or more earned runs in a start six times this season; he did that five times in his last two seasons combined.
More than that, Andy Pettitte’s ERA has jumped up to 4.39 – at 7-8, he might be headed toward the first losing season of his 18-year career – and Phil Hughes, the one-time top prospect, can’t seem to string together a sustained run of quality starts (his ERA is 4.33).
There remains reason for hope, in the form of Jeter’s activation, and of Curtis Granderson’s (which might come next week), and of Michael Pineda’s Yankees debut (Pineda has allowed no runs and struck out 11 in 7.2 innings over his last two outings in Triple-A). And Soriano’s acquisition seems a reasonable one for a team that sat just 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, even in a season in which so much has gone wrong. But Friday night was a reminder of two things: That a 37-year-old with an on-base-percentage of .287 is no savior; and that the Yankees could still use saving.