At this moment, left field at Yankee Stadium belongs to Brett Gardner. The only other options on the Yankees roster are a Rule 5 pick and a few minor leaguers with spring training invitations, but as I wrote in today’s Journal News, Gardner knows the position won’t be handed to him quite so easily.
“I just want to be in there and play and contribute,” he said from his home in South Carolina. “Hopefully I’ll be playing every day. I’m sure they’re going to look at a couple of different options, and hopefully I fit in there somewhere.”
The Yankees remain in the market for an outfielder, and Brian Cashman has expressed an interest in a right-handed hitter to complement switch-hitting Nick Swisher and lefties Gardner and Curtis Granderson. Most of the names being suggested — including the ever-present possibility of Johnny Damon — could be more than role players, they could win the left-field job outright.
And so, Gardner is at home, getting himself ready to fight for an everyday job. He said he plans to arrive in spring training more than two weeks before position players are scheduled to report, and until then, he’ll be working on his own to address the shortcomings of a largely successful rookie season.
Approach at the plate
“I just need to be more aggressive and put some balls in play.”
In the minor leagues, Gardner established himself as a dangerous hitter at the top of the order. Pitchers wouldn’t work around him, but they pitched carefully against him. Opening with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2008, Gardner walked just 12 times in April, but he also hit .299 and slugged .494 that month. Triple-A pitchers then walked him 25 times in May and 24 times in June. Gardner is not going to get the same respect in the big leagues, and he’s going to have to adjust.
“Hitting ninth, the very last thing they’re going to do is walk me,” Gardner said. “So they’re going to throw me a lot of fastballs, which I saw a lot last year… It’s one of those things that I’ve got to get over the hump. I’ve got to get more aggressive. I can’t fall behind.”
“There are days when I bunt more than 100 balls.”
Gardner has been an effective bunter in the past. He played just 55 Double-A games in 2006 and had 18 bunt hits. As he got higher in the minor league system, though, Gardner stopped bunting nearly as much so that he could use those at-bats to hone his swing. His extra-base hits went up in 2007 and again in 2008, but he lost his feel and confidence for bunting.
“It’s something I got away from that I shouldn’t have ever gotten away from,” he said. “The idea was, instead of wasting forty or fifty at-bats a year, swing the bat.”
This offseason: “I (bunt) every day,” Gardner said. “And obviously as spring training gets closer, I’ll be doing it more and more. And when we get to spring training, I’ll be doing it more and more.”
“Physically I was ready, I just don’t think I was ready mentally.”
It’s hard to complain about Gardner’s regular-season baserunning. He was 26-for-31 on steal attempts, with three of the five caught-stealings coming during an 0-for-3 stretch in July. In the playoffs, though, Gardner was 1-for-3 stealing bases. With ALCS Game 2 tied in the seventh inning, he pinch ran for Nick Swisher but never attempted to take second. Robinson Cano grounded into a double play on the fourth pitch of the at-bat.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough,” Gardner said.
“Everything is a learning experience, especially at this point for me. There are always things you wish you could go back and do differently, but let’s face it, we won a World Series and that’s something we’re all very fortunate to be a part of.”
One thing I’ve always respected about Gardner’s career is his steady improvement. I watched him leave Triple-A in 2008, strikeout 17 times in 17 big league games, come back to the minors and immediately make strikeout adjustments. He had five Ks, nine walks and 20 hits in his last 13 Triple-A games that year.
I can’t tell you whether Gardner be better in 2010 than he was in 2009, but I know he was better when he went back to New York at the end of 2008, and I know he was better still in 2009. I thought Gardner was pretty good last year, and his previous numbers tell me to believe him when he says he’s working on being better this season.
Double-A in 2006: .272/.352/.318
Double-A in 2007: .300/.392/.419
Triple-A in 2007: .260/.343/.331
Triple-A in 2008: .296/.414/.422
New York in 2008: .228/.283/.299
New York in 2009: .270/.345/.379
New York in 2010: — / — / —