Take away his first 18 games this season, and Brett Gardner is a .356/.438/.521 hitter. That’s since April 26, a fairly significant sample size of 52 games and 146 at-bats. In the past 11 games, Gardner has hit a Major League-best .472, and since June 7 he has more walks than strikeouts and an on-base percentage well above .500.
Gardner was so bad in those first 18 games that Joe Girardi had little choice but to dump him from the leadoff spot, but now that Gardner’s hitting again, it’s unlikely he’ll return to that leadoff role when Derek Jeter is healthy.
Jeter will remain at the top and Curtis Granderson has been an MVP candidate in the No. 2 hole, which doesn’t leave room for Gardner up top, but make no mistake, he has quietly turned his season around. Without much fanfare — certainly without all the attention of his earlier struggles — Gardner has become the same sort of hitter he was in the first half of last season. He said it started with some late-April adjustments, though he couldn’t remember an exact date that he made the changes.
“Whenever I went like 7-for-70 or whatever it was,” he said. “Whenever I was as low as low got.”
Gardner has moved closer to the plate, an adjustment that’s forced him to attack the baseball because he can’t afford to be late (before he could stay back and just slap the ball the other way). He’s also changed his approach to take advantage of some ahead-in-the-count fastballs. It’s led to Gardner being an unusually dynamic hitter.
Equally unusual is his situation: Jeter is Jeter, which carries weight and obviously leads to a delicate situation when shaking up the top of the order. The Yankees also have Andruw Jones, who’s hit for enough power against left-handers to remain a viable role player, and because of Nick Swisher’s success against lefties and Granderson’s success overall, a lot of Jones’ at-bats have come at the expense of Gardner (something that doesn’t have to be the case when the Yankees are back in American League parks).
“Obviously the ultimate goal is to be an everyday player,” Gardner said. “But I understand that obviously there’s other guys that are going to get at-bats and I understand that. That’s part of it… Maybe a little bit (frustrating) just from the aspect of, when you get on a roll you want to be in there and play every day and try and keep things going. Also, if your not getting a lot of at-bats against lefties, it’s hard to get better against them.”
• Girardi said the day off was good for his banged up players, but that doesn’t mean Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez will be available for 18 innings tomorrow. “I think it helps them,” he said. “You definitely won’t see Russell playing two games, and Alex, we’ll have to see. Probably not. It probably helps them physically.”
• Jeter got on the field today in Tampa. He threw, but Girardi wasn’t sure whether he took any swings. It’s still uncertain whether he’ll go on a rehab assignment. “You may want him to go through a game just to see how he feels and how he bounces back the next day,” Girardi said. “The one thing you’d hate is if he was to come back, play a day and then have to take a couple days off.”
• By the way, I vividly remember the Roger Clemens rehab start in Scranton when people were absolutely everywhere. I’d never seen anything quite like it. I can’t imagine what a Jeter rehab would be like. Can a minor league team sell seats on the warning track?
• Injured pitcher updates: Bartolo Colon threw from 120 feet today… Phil Hughes threw a side today… Rafael Soriano played catch and had no problems. Girardi said “the reports were good” on Soriano… Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano each played catch.
• Girardi wasn’t sure what exactly Eric Chavez did today, but he said, “I’m sure he hit.”
• Girardi on the decision not to have Eduardo Nunez in the lineup today: “Nuney’s played seven days in a row, with the game he came in, eight. He hadn’t done that since probably last year in the minor leagues. Even though he’s young, you get a little bit concerned about fatigue in the heat and humidity. I worry about all our guys, but when you haven’t done that in a long time, there’s some fear that if he is fatigued, he could hurt something.”
• Andruw Jones rolled ankle is fine.
• Despite Gardner’s recent success and .390 on-base percentage against lefties, Girardi said he still likes having Nick Swisher in the leadoff spot against left-handers. Swisher is hitting .347/.451/.556 against lefties. “Swish has done a good job leading off,” Girardi said. “We did it and Swish had a lot of success over there, so I wasn’t going to change it. You look at the job he’s done, his on-base percentage against lefties – what is it, .430, .440? – that’s hard to beat. You want to set the table before those other guys.”
• Girardi once against expressed confidence in Boone Logan and said he plans to still use him against lefties. “I think it’s consistency of strikes,” Girardi said. “Getting ahead of hitters is important for all pitchers. It comes down to location… It’s been tough for him this year. He had a little streak where he had a good streak going, then he ran into a little trouble. We need him. That’s the bottom line.”
• The beat writers were actually in Girardi’s office when he got the call saying the game was postponed. If you’re wondering how that whole thing goes down, apparently it’s as simple as this: Girardi’s phone rang, it was Red GM Walt Jocketty, and he told Girardi that they were playing two games tomorrow. The whole thing took 20 seconds, but then again, it was so crystal clear that this game was going to be rained out that Girardi suggested we do the pregame interview as if the game had already been called, even though it had not been officially called. There really was little sense pretending there was going to be a game at that point.
Associated Press photos