Jeremy Hellickson isn’t all that different from James Shields. Both are right-handed pitchers who lean heavily on offspeed pitches — especially changeups — so the Yankees are expecting the Rays defensive approach in today’s series finale to be similar to their approach in the season opener: A lot of infield shifting to the pull side, where soft, inside pitches are likely to rolled over.
“It’s really hard to change who you are and revamp your approach because of the way a team plays you,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You try to take what they give you, you try to hit the ball hard, and you take your chances. Sometimes part of the reason they do it is they want you to get away from what you’ve been doing so well for a long time. I just tell our guys to keep hitting the ball hard, and it’ll work.”
The Rays typically shift more than any other team in the game, but in these first two games of the season, the Yankees have seen the shift far more than they expected. They’ve seen it against almost everyone, and it’s been easy to notice those times when it’s worked. Would-be base hits by Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira jump to mind immediately.
“I don’t really care about that stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I like getting a good pitch to hit and smoking it. It doesn’t really matter where they play, but (the shift is) pretty interesting.”
The Yankees fully expect to see more of it this afternoon, and they expect Hellickson to pitch accordingly.
“If teams are pounding you in it’s not easy to hit the ball the other way,” Girardi said. “And when you get out front and you’re rolling over on offspeed, (it works) because they try to speed you up and then slow you down. You have to be able to shift people, but you also have to be able to make your pitches.”
• Girardi said yesterday that he might rest Rodriguez today, but after checking with him last night and this morning, Girardi decided to keep him in the lineup at third base. Girardi said Rodriguez will likely DH tomorrow against the lefty Brian Matusz.
• Nick Swisher is getting a DH day because of his late-spring groin issues. “He feels good,” Girardi said. “And I just want to make sure those groins don’t act up a little bit.”
• Although it’s early, Girardi said his goal is to keep Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and whoever else from ever truly needing a day off. He wants to keep them rested and fresh with regular DH days, even in these first few games. “That’s why I’ll check with them on a regular basis to make sure I know how they’re feeling,” Girardi said. “I’ll even send other people to check on them sometimes to see if we get the same answer.”
• Chris Stewart’s only other big league start with the Yankees came with Phil Hughes on the mound, and Hughes struggled that day. But Stewart has also caught Hughes quite a bit in the minors and feels like he has a pretty good feel for what Hughes is trying to do.
• Although he said extended spring training a couple of days ago, Girardi said today that Andy Pettitte’s Monday start will come with the Tampa Yankees. He’s not currently on their roster.
• It hasn’t been as extreme or as noticeable as the Rays, but Girardi said he’s been shifting his infielders a little more than usual. On established players, the Yankees have spray charts of well over 100 ground balls — not 100 at-bats, 100 grounders — and they use that to figure out tendencies. They might not have a great idea what to expect from a guy like Jose Lobaton, but they have a pretty good set of data on Evan Longorida and Carlos Pena.
Desmond Jennings CF
Carlos Pena 1B
Evan Longoria 3B
Matt Joyce LF
Ben Zobrist RF
Luke Scott DH
Jeff Keppinger 2B
Jose Molina C
Sean Rodriguez SS
Associated Press photos