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Fielder, Smyly keep Tigers from losing lead

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- Prince Fielder and Drew Smyly made sure Detroit didn't blow another lead Friday.

The Tigers have taken the lead first in all four of their games this season and now won half of them.

Fielder had two home runs and five RBI and Smyly pitched four perfect innings of relief for his first save in Detroit's 8-3 victory over the New York Yankees.

"He pitched down in the zone very well," New York manager Joe Girardi said.

Smyly struck out five for his first career save.

"We were going to piggyback Drew with Justin Verlander (Opening Day)," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who couldn't do it because the second-year lefty had problems hitting the strike zone. "He was more aggressive with his fastball. He attacked the strike zone and worked both sides of the plate."

Detroit scored a run in each of the first two innings in its home opener but lost the lead when Kevin Youkilis capped a three-run fifth with a two-run homer to put the Yankees on top 3-2.

Fielder won a lefty-against-lefty matchup with Boone Logan when he clubbed a three-run homer on the second pitch he saw in the bottom of the fifth and added a two-run shot his next time up in the seventh off Shawn Kelley. In between, Alex Avila added a home run for the Tigers.

Striking early has been a Detroit specialty four games into the season. Detroit had a 3-0 lead at Minnesota in the season opener and hung on for a 4-2 win. It took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning of the second game, but the Twins ralled for two in the ninth and a 3-2 victory. The Tigers were on top 2-0 after 2 1/2 innings on Thursday and eventually lost 8-2.

It was the 25th time Fielder has hit more than one home run in a game in his career.

Attendance of 45,051 was the largest for a home opener in Comerica Park's 14 seasons and second largest overall.

Fielder's three-run homer in the fifth gave the Tigers a 5-3 lead. Logan was brought in to pitch to Fielder after starter Ivan Nova hit Miguel Cabrera with a pitch with a man on third and two out. Fielder took a strike and then launched his first home run of the season into the seats in right.

Fielder entered the game just 2 for 12, but three strong at-bats Thursday showed he was on the verge of breaking out.

"My wife and kids are here for the weekend, then Monday it's back to school," Fielder said. "It's good. You try to forget each at-bat, bad or not."

New York grabbed a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth when Youkilis hit a two-run homer after Doug Fister had wild-pitched home the Yankees' first run.

The Yankees suffered a potentially damaging loss in the fourth when shortstop Eduardo Nunez, who has been filling in for injured regular Derek Jeter, was hit in the right arm by a Doug Fister pitch and suffered a bruised biceps.

Nunez, his face contorted in agony, went down on the ground and stayed there for more than a minute while being examined. He left the game hunched over, his right arm hanging down, and was replaced on the bases by Jayson Nix, who stayed in the game to play short.

"It's a day-to-day thing," Girardi said. "My thought is he won't play Saturday. He was hit in the (right) biceps.

"I don't think we've lost Nunez for a while. It's just a bruise."

X-rays showed no break and Nunez was back on the bench later in the game.

Detroit scored in each of the first two innings. Cabrera grounded into a forceout with runners on first and third in the first, beating the relay by a half-step. Omar Infante's RBI single in the second scored Andy Dirks, who had walked leading off and stolen second.

Using Smyly the last four innings was prompted by six left-handed hitters in the Yankees' lineup. Only one was pinch-hit for.

With no designated closer, Leyland has taken to matching his pitchers to the opponents to finish games. Smyly is a good long relief matchup because he has been a starter through his career until now and both of Detroit's early opponents, Minnesota and the Yankees, have lots of left-handed hitters.

"He had gone far enough with three (innings) that we were going to lose him (for the next two games) anyway," Leyland said. "So we let him go."

NOTES: New York's backup infielder, Nix, will be the Yankees' starting shortstop for at least one game as Nunez nurses his bruised right biceps. That means the new emergency infielder will be catcher Francisco Cervelli. "Cervy will be our extra infielder," Girardi said. "If I had to use somebody, that's what I would do." ... The signing of former Tigers closer Jose Valverde to a minor-league contract was "a no-brainer" in the Leyland's mind. "We'll take a look, see what happens," he said. Valverde will report to Detroit's extended spring training for some throwing, perhaps pitch a game or two for high-Class A Lakeland, and if that goes well should be bumped up to triple-A Toledo. ... New York right-hander Phil Hughes (upper back) was scheduled for a rehab start Saturday for triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He threw seven scoreless innings Monday in an extended spring game. ... Retiring Yankees closer Mariano Rivera "in my personal opinion ... has been the best (closer) of all time," Leyland said. "You didn't hear of relief pitchers way back. But he's the best of the modern era." ... Jeter has no target date for a return to action, according to manager Joe Girardi. Jeter is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday but has not played in any games while rehabbing at New York's spring base. ... Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda threw a bullpen session Friday and New York expects him to make his next scheduled start against Cleveland if he shows up Saturday with no adverse reaction. Kuroda suffered a bruised right index finger on Wednesday. ... Leyland likes to use his bench as much as possible and intends to give left fielder Matt Tuiasosopo his first start Sunday against Yankees left-hander C.C. Sabathia. Backup catcher Brayan Pena will also get his first start in a Detroit uniform in the same game.
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