After losing his way in two horrid starts, Vidal Nuno was right on target against the Boston Red Sox.
Nuno rebounded nicely from losses to Baltimore and Oakland to pitch two-hit ball into the sixth inning Friday night, Kelly Johnson and Brett Gardner hit consecutive homers, and the New York Yankees beat Boston, 6-0, in the opener of a series between struggling powers.
“He really answered the bell tonight,” Yankees catcher Brian McCann said. “He came out and established the strike zone, established what he wanted to do and got big outs after big outs.”
McCann added a two-run homer for New York, which has won six of the eight meetings with Boston this season.
In his first at-bat as a 40-year-old, Derek Jeter fisted a single to right field with one out in the first. His birthday was on Thursday, the Yankees’ final day off before playing 17 straight going into the All-Star break.
Jeter went to third on Jacoby Ellsbury’s double and scored on Mark Teixeira’s sacrifice fly off Brandon Workman (1-1) for the early lead. The Yankees captain also singled in the fourth for hit No. 3,390 and went 2-for-4 in New York’s second straight win following four losses.
The Red Sox have been playing even worse, scoring three runs or fewer for the 11th time in 13 games and losing for the sixth time in eight games. Fourth in the rugged AL East, Boston trails the third-place Yankees by six games.
“Again, the base hit with the guy in scoring position has been elusive,” manager John Farrell said of the Red Sox, who were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.
New York manager Joe Girardi could have skipped the struggling Nuno (2-4) and given the ball to rookie ace Masahiro Tanaka because of the extra day of rest but, in a feisty pregame Q&A with media, Girardi insisted he was interested in protecting his entire staff, not just the Japanese sensation.
Nuno rewarded Girardi with 5 2/3 impressive innings after he gave up a total of 13 runs in 9 1/3 innings in losses to the A’s and Orioles. He yielded a leadoff single to Jonny Gomes in the second and a one-out double in the third to Brock Holt. Nuno then retired 10 straight before walking David Ortiz, his last batter.
“I’ve had confidence in him but we’re in a situation where these are the five guys that we have,” Girardi said. “He’s pitched some good games for us. He seems to always bounce back and give us a good outing.”
Nuno said he was overstriding, trying to find more power, and that elevated his pitches. He worked more comfortably and quickly Friday in his best start this season.
“Leaving balls up in the zone was the key to making mistakes,” said Nuno, who has given up 15 homers this season.
Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Matt Thornton finished the three-hitter.
Holt possibly saved a run in the second when he made a leaping catch above the wall on Brian Roberts’ fly to right field. But he could only watch as Johnson’s two-run homer in the fourth went deep into the bleachers in right field, his first home run in 85 at-bats.
Gardner connected six pitches later, giving New York a 4-0 lead.
“It was a good feeling,” Johnson said, “to drive a ball like that but also to give us some more breathing room.”
Workman was otherwise solid, allowing seven hits and two walks in seven innings. He struck out five.
“Little bit of a grind the whole time,” Workman said. “I was constantly pitching with guys on and stuff like that.”
McCann golfed a drive into the second deck in right off Craig Breslow in the eighth.