Coming into a three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays that begins tonight, the Yankees have only played their division rival twice so far in 2012. We’re already past the halfway point of the season, and the Yankees still have 16 games to play against the Blue Jays — meaning they’ll be seeing quite a bit of each other in the next two and a half months.
“It’s really strange,” Joe Girardi said. “I think we had it one other time a couple of years ago. … But it’s just weird to think that in the first half – basically the first 90 games – we’ve only played them twice, and they’re in our division.”
The Yankees dropped both of their previous two meetings in Toronto on May 16-17, so they’re still looking for their first win against the Jays. The Yankees have a substantial eight-game lead in the AL East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles, but Toronto will have a chance to do some serious damage in the second half.
Girardi was asked whether or not he thinks it could hurt the Yankees to be seeing the same team so often in such a short period of time.
“I’ve never really thought of it as one way or the other being better or worse,” he said. “I think a lot of times the time you play a club is more important than how much you play them in one half or another. Whether a team is playing well or they’re beat up, so I think sometimes that can be the important thing.”
• Other than all of the talk about playing the Jays so often in the second half, the big news to come out of Girardi’s pregame press conference was that Brett Gardner came in today feeling soreness in his injured right elbow. The speedy outfielder had four at-bats in a simulated game yesterday, and apparently felt something slight today. Girardi said they’re not going to do anything except wait to see how he feels tomorrow, so we still have no idea if this will be a significant setback. The alarming part is that this isn’t the first time that Gardner experienced soreness the day after resuming baseball activities, so this is becoming a trend. “He came up a little sore today, so he’s not playing today,” Girardi said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there. It’s a concern because it’s happened before.”
• As I wrote this morning, the one spot that seems the most logical for the Yankees to entertain trade offers is for an outfielder that can run in the event that Gardner is not going to be able to contribute anytime soon. Well, with the news breaking that Gardner may be experiencing another setback, CBS’s Jon Heyman wrote that the Yankees may look into acquiring Phillies’ outfielder Shane Victorino. Victorino would appear to be a good fit because he can play multiple outfield positions, he would bring some speed (at least more than they have in the lineup right now), and he’s a switch-hitter. The question becomes, will Philly be looking for a top prospect in return? That price tag may be a bit steep for Brian Cashman’s liking.
• Getting back to tonight’s game with Toronto, Girardi raved about the power in the Blue Jays’ lineup. We all know about Jose Bautista, who has become one of the most feared power hitters in league over the course of the past two seasons. He’s tied for second in the majors with 27 homers this season, but Edwin Encarnacion is having a career-year at the age of 29. He’s hitting .293 with an on-base percentage of .385 and an OPS of .959. He has 25 homers and 61 RBI, which recently earned him a contract extension. “They hit the ball out of the ballpark, and they have some speed,” Girardi said. “They can run, and they do a lot of things offensively. The challenge is to keep them in the park.”
• That challenge belongs to Phil Hughes, who will take the ball for the first game tonight. The right-hander didn’t have his best stuff in his most recent start against Boston, but overall he’s pitched very well since May. With some dangerous righty bats in the Jays’ lineup, Girardi stressed that he needs to continue to locate his fastball. If one gets too much of the plate, he can get himself into big trouble against a team like this. “I think the big key has been his fastball,” Girardi said. “When he has command of his fastball down and away to right-handers, he seems to be much more effective.”
• Girardi also gave his take on how this hot weather alters the way that balls travel in Yankee Stadium: “I’m hoping that the wind changes and blows in,” he said. “We’ll have to see when I get out there. When it gets humid here, sometimes the ball carries, but sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve really never been able to make sense of it.”
• Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays have been hit hard by injuries to their pitching staff. The biggest blow was losing Brandon Morrow to a strained left oblique. The right-hander was having a career-year with a 3.01 ERA and a nice, even 1.00 WHIP. He’s also had great pure stuff, and seemed to put it all together this season. Toronto also lost top prospect Kyle Drabek to Tommy John surgery and Drew Hutchinson to an elbow injury. Still, the Jays remain one game over .500 and have played relatively well. “There is still a lot of talent in that room,” Girardi said. “They lost three pitchers in a span of five days that they were counting on. We lost the two in one day, and it’s tough to overcome. But they’ve hung around.”
• Girardi confirmed that Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to throw an inning tomorrow after tossing two scoreless frames on Saturday. Girardi did not know where he would throw, but he did say it will be somewhere in Florida — possibly the Gulf Coast League.
• Here is the Jays’ lineup: 1. Lawrie (3B); 2. Rasmus (CF); 3. Bautista (RF); 4. Encarnacion (1B); 5. Lind (DH); 6. Escobar (SS); 7. Johnson (2B); 8. Davis (LF); 9. Arencibia (C); RHP Alvarez.
• We also have a slight lineup change for the Yankees. A-Rod will now DH, while Eric Chavez will play third. Apparently, A-Rod experienced a stiff neck after batting practice. This surely means that A-Rod will rake tonight…
Associated Press photos