In a move that we’ve seen once or twice this season but not on a consistent basis, Joe Girardi decided to move Ichiro into the leadoff spot for today’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. The decision pushes Derek Jeter back into the two-hole — the spot where he spent the majority of his career pre-2009.
“Guys that have had success the last couple of years against James Shields is basically what I looked at,” Girardi said. “There’s a few changes, but it’s usually the same cast of characters.”
In 46 career at-bats against Shields, Ichiro is hitting .304 with a .782 OPS. That’s the second highest average vs. Shields of any Yankee regular (Robinson Cano is hitting .417 with a 1.190 OPS).
Personally, I kind of like the idea of Ichiro and Jeter at the top because it lengthens the lineup, while also giving the Yanks two versatile guys to set the table. Nick Swisher had been doing well in the two-hole, but he has cooled off considerably of late. I would actually give some consideration to hitting Jeter first and Ichiro second because of how well Jeter has been doing in the leadoff spot this year, and also because Ichiro is a great situational hitter and is probably the best bunter on the team.
But according to Girardi, this arrangement is not something we should get used to.
“It’s just the one day,” Girardi said. “With Russell (Martin) out too, you try to split up your left-handers a little bit. He was the guy that was kind of splitting them up at the bottom.”
• The big news to come out of Girardi’s pregame press conference was that it sounds like Brett Gardner could be activated very soon. I tweeted when I first got to the Stadium this afternoon that Gardner was stretching and running. The elbow injury obviously has no affect on his legs, and Gardner could be a major weapon off of the bench as a pinch-runner for guys like Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. “It’s possible, yeah,” Girardi said when asked if he could be activated soon. “We need to get him on the field in some spikes in some situations that he might be put in before we can decide if he’s ready to go.”
• Gardner ran the bases today, and Girardi said he will do so again tomorrow before any decision is made. It sounds to me like it’s a definite possibility to see him in uniform on Tuesday. Girardi was clear that Gardner won’t hit again this season — that’s what kept reaggravating the injury in the first place — but that it is possible to see him play in the field aside from just pinch-running. The concern is if he rolled over on the elbow again while trying to make a play, but he is probably the Yankees’ best defensive outfielder. Even if he does play in the field, it wouldn’t be for more than an inning or two because he would have to be taken out when his turn to bat came up. “We’d have to think about, do we think it’s safe for him to play defense?” Girardi said. “Pinch-running might be the first step. He’s taken some fly balls out there for us. As long as he’s able to run, our concern is if he was to dive and tuck under again.”
• The focus of this game will be squarely on Ivan Nova. As Brian Heyman wrote this morning, he was 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA at the All-Star break, but just 1-4 with a 7.28 ERA in eight starts since. The hope is that the rest will have done his arm some good and Nova can return to form. If the Yankees make the postseason, it’s unlikely that Nova would be in line for a start with the way that Phil Hughes is pitching and Andy Pettitte returning on Tuesday, but the Yankees would still like to see an encouraging outing from the young right-hander. “I think he can give us 80-90 pitches,” Girardi said. “The big thing is his command. We talk about that every day. Command of his fastball and his breaking balls.”
• Without any rehab appearances, Nova has had to rely strictly on simulated games to get himself ready. He hasn’t pitched in a real game since August 21, but Girardi said he was encouraged by Nova’s most recent simulated game. “The second one I thought was much better than the first,” Girardi said. “The first one he hadn’t faced hitters in probably about 14-15 days. The second one he commanded his pitches, which made me feel very good.”
• Once again, Jeter will DH with Eduardo Nunez playing short. Jeter has been playing through his bruised left ankle — and playing pretty damn well — but Girardi said we won’t see him in the field until Tuesday, at the earliest. Nunez has had tremendous success against Shields, hitting .462 with a 1.269 OPS in 13 career at-bats.
• Of course, Girardi was asked about Nunez’s big error late in the game yesterday. Aside from that, Nunez has looked pretty good in the field, but one misstep has brought up his demons from the past. “I think so,” Girardi said when asked if it’s important to run Nunez back out there right away. “The focus will be the error, and I understand that – the play that he didn’t make. But you look at the plays that he did make, he made a lot of really good plays for us over the two days, and that’s what we need to focus on, and what he needs to focus on.”
• It was somewhat curious to see Ibanez hitting fifth behind A-Rod, as opposed to the red-hot Curtis Granderson (who is hitting seventh). Ibanez has struggled mightily of late, and it will certainly be very tempting for Shields to pitch around A-Rod. Granderson’s numbers against Shields are flat-out bad (.107 with a .355 OPS in 56 career at-bats), while Ibanez has had a bit more success at .227 with a 1.028 OPS. I know many of you were wondering why Girardi didn’t use Dickerson instead of Ibanez, but Dickerson is only hitting .143 with a .286 OPS against Shields.
• Girardi also shot down the possibility of using a six-man rotation, which means that David Phelps will be delegated to the bullpen for the rest of the season — barring an injury. Phelps had some success there earlier in the season, and could be used in a Ramiro Mendoza-Alfredo Aceves type of role.
• No update on Mark Teixeira. “I don’t have a timetable when he’ll go hit in the cage,” Girardi said. “He’s still sore.”
• Girardi was asked about the lack of late inning comebacks this season, which in the past has been a Yankee trademark. “We haven’t had any, so I don’t think it’s unfair (to be criticized),” he said. “The idea behind a good bullpen is you don’t let teams come back, and you’re not going to see a lot of teams that are down after eight innings come back. It is somewhat surprising.”
• Here’s the lineup for the Rays: 1. Jennings (LF); 2. Zobrist (SS); 3. Longoria (DH); 4. Upton (CF); 5. Keppinger (3B); 6. Joyce (RF); 7. Roberts (2B); 8. Pena (1B); 9. Molina (C).
Associated Press photos
UPDATE, 2:53 p.m.: We were just informed in the press box that there was a misprint on the Yankees lineup. Eric Chavez will be playing first and batting sixth, not Nick Swisher. For someone who talks about separating lefties all of the time, Girardi sure does seem to be bunching them together a lot recently. Ibanez, Chavez and Granderson are hitting 5-6-7 today.