video thumbnail

HOU@TOR: Bautista belts two homers vs. Astros

The Yankees' recent slide raised the odd issue of whether they were hitting too many home runs.

Nice problem to have, Toronto's Aaron Hill must be thinking.

The Blue Jays second baseman brings a streak of 128 at-bats without a home run into the Bronx for Monday night's opener of a three-game series as the teams resume intraleague play.

Hill's containment wouldn't be as notable if he hadn't gone yard 62 times in his preceding 1,207 at-bats, the period covering the 2009-10 seasons. So far in '11, he's bounced a few drives off walls but hasn't yet gotten any over.

Perhaps Hill will be helped by exposure to the Yankees' "gopher virus." The Yankees got inoculated with the eight-run game-winning rally in the seventh inning on Sunday against the Mets, accomplished without a single long ball. But even after going 5-for-10 with men in scoring position on Sunday, New York is hitting .200 (13-for-65) in those situations in its last eight games at Yankee Stadium, six of them losses.

In that same home stretch, the Bombers have nearly as many homers (12) as hits with men in scoring position, accounting for the majority of their scoring. The players appear more aware of that fixation than their manager.

"It's important for us to think small ball -- to also score runs on base hits, singles and doubles," said Alex Rodriguez.

But don't wait for New York manager Joe Girardi to start flashing small-ball signs.

"For me, I don't care how we score runs; I really don't," Girardi said. "The bottom line is either you have more runs than the other team or you have less. And it doesn't matter if you hit nine home runs and score 18 runs or if you have 42 hits and score 18 runs, the bottom line is you score runs, and we happen to be a club that hits a lot of home runs and that's how we score a lot of our runs.

"There are a lot of American League teams that score a lot of runs off home runs. That's just the nature of the league."

It's still the nature of the Blue Jays. After topping the Majors last season with 257 homers, they still rank second to the Yankees' 71 this year with 51 -- except Hill hasn't been part of it.

The biggest part, of course, is big league homer leader Jose Bautista, who will try to add to his total of 18 at the expense of Bartolo Colon.

Colon, the Yankees' impressive reclamation project, will match up with the Blue Jays' own flashback, Carlos Villanueva, who leaves the bullpen to start in place of Jesse Litsch, disabled with an impingement in his right shoulder.

Villanueva will be making his first start since Oct. 3, 2009, when he took the ball for the Brewers in St. Louis, but he has been lights-out in relief (1.48 ERA), logging 40-plus pitches in three of his appearances.

"It would be different if it was a guy that's never started before," Toronto manager John Farrell said of the big-stage assignment for Villanueva, who has started 27 of his 243 career appearances. "He's very calm, confident. He's a professional. He has been a huge addition to this pitching staff and has been a very valuable member. The fact that he's gone five-plus innings in a relief outing up to 70 pitches, he's stretched out far in advance enough to spot start."

Blue Jays: McDonald set to rejoin club
• Infielder John McDonald is expected to rejoin the team on Monday after being absent Sunday for personal reasons.

• Hill's drought partner, Jo-Jo Reyes, is scheduled to start Wednesday's series finale and will be seeking his first win in 28 starts.

Yankees: Once again, Captain clutch
• When Derek Jeter tied Sunday's game with a two-run single in the seventh, it marked the captain's second late-game clutch hit (tying or go-ahead after the sixth) since last Aug. 11.

Worth noting
With so much attention being paid to Jeter's bat work -- two hits on Sunday moved him within 25 of 3,000 -- his feat of tying the Yankees' career record for steals has gone unfairly overshadowed. Jeter's 326th steal on Saturday pulled him even with Rickey Henderson -- the Hall of Fame outfielder who'd spent all of five seasons in the Bronx. Comments