Joe Girardi's juggling act continues, even with the positive vibes off Saturday's 6-2 win over the Royals at the Stadium: After missing three games with a strained hamstring, Martin Prado had three hits and scored twice, but the Yankees were without Brett Gardner, who aggravated an abdominal strain that bothered him in early July.
With less and less time to waste, they need all of their productive players, of course. But they got some help Saturday when their opponent needed to do some juggling of its own.
Royals lefthander Danny Duffy, who has a 2.42 ERA and has been one of the American League's top pitchers during the past six weeks, threw one wince-inducing pitch and headed to the clubhouse with what was termed left shoulder soreness.
The Yankees, who managed only three hits Friday night in a 1-0 loss to James Shields and the Royals, promptly got to emergency reliever Liam Hendriks, who allowed seven hits and four runs in four innings.
With two outs and no one on base in the first, Prado doubled off Hendriks and scored on Mark Teixeira's single to center.
After the Royals tied it in the third on Alex Gordon's two-out RBI single off Brandon McCarthy, John Ryan Murphy doubled on Hendriks' first pitch in the bottom of the inning, Jacoby Ellsbury tripled him home and Derek Jeter lifted a sacrifice fly for a 3-1 lead.
Chase Headley singled to lead off the fourth and scored with two outs on catcher Salvador Perez's errant pickoff throw. Prado doubled off Casey Coleman in the fifth and scored on Carlos Beltran's two-out double. Ichiro Suzuki's RBI single then made it 6-1.
"There's an opportunity there,'' said McCarthy (6-4, 2.79), who didn't feel overly confident in his pitches but allowed two runs and six hits in 62/3 innings. "You're getting rid of one of the better pitchers in baseball and you've got a long trek through the pen. We took advantage and it was a good team game.''
Girardi had his righthanded-heavy lineup prepared for Duffy, but starting Zelous Wheeler in left over Gardner was out of necessity. The manager said Gardner aggravated the abdominal strain on Friday night and wasn't available for anything Saturday; were he healthy, Girardi surely would have gone to Gardner over Wheeler once the Royals went to their bullpen.
Gardner said he hopes to play Sunday, but Girardi sounded more cautious. "He didn't let on until we asked him and he said it was bothering him again,'' he said. "I'm not sure what we'll have [Sunday].''
Murphy had two hits and caught a solid game, allowing Brian McCann to rest. The Yankees also were without Francisco Cervelli (migraine), forcing a recall of Austin Romine before the game.
Prado's return seemed to stabilize the lineup. He couldn't run very well but still picked up hits his first three times up.
"He's one of those guys who's basically a pain in the butt at the plate,'' McCarthy said. "It's like Jeter was in his prime.''
Jeter will have his big day Sunday, with a star-studded cast on hand to salute him before he has to play a rather important game. In the battle for the second wild card, the Yankees trail the Mariners by 41/2 games and the Tigers by three games.
With only 22 games left, the Yankees are left to try to win, then scoreboard-watch and hope. It's not an ideal situation. Particularly when Girardi still is forced to juggle his lineup.
For a change Saturday, the opposition needed to juggle and the Yankees got in gear.
"Duffy has been throwing the ball as well as anybody lately,'' Girardi said. "We took advantage.''