When the Yankees outfield went to shag fly balls this afternoon, Curtis Granderson went to left field and Brett Gardner went to center. But after a few plays, Gardner shifted to right field, Granderson went to center and Ichiro Suzuki moved to left. A minute or two later, Ichiro moved to center, and both Granderson and Gardner were in right. On Twitter, I wrote that the Yankees had to be messing with us. I was kidding. Turns out, I was also right.
“We noticed a couple of you guys noticed when we were out there,” Gardner said. “So we tried to move me to right and Ichiro to center so you guys would really figure something weird was going on.”
Clearly the Yankees are doing all the right things to diffuse the situation — both Granderson and Gardner seem to be legitimate team-first guys who won’t make a fuss one way or the other — but it’s obviously a bit awkward. There’s no way to look at it other than the Yankees believing Gardner is a better center fielder than Granderson, and whether right or wrong, that can’t be an easy reality for Granderson.
“I’d love to play center,” Granderson said. “That’s what I’ve been playing. But at the same time, I just want to play in general. No matter where it happens to be, that’s where I want to be at. … I have played (left field) before, but it’s been a while, so I’ll have to get some balls back out there just to see how things are going. Just work with the lights, the sun and the angles, different things like that. And all of that just comes with getting repetitions.”
Granderson has played 22 major league games in left field, but he hasn’t been there in a regular season game since 207. He played left field 105 times in the minors, but almost all of those came a decade ago in Class A or lower. Gardner, on the other hand, has played center field 197 times in the majors — including the final game of last year’s American League Championship Series — and he was always considered a strong center fielder in the minors.
Basically, the change is going to hinge on Granderson more than it hinges on Gardner. Granderson has to be able to play left field. There’s little reason to doubt Gardner can play center.
“How they play individually, but how the tandem works together in covering from right-center all the way over,” Joe Girardi said. “Reads on the ball, jumps on the ball, throws, decision making, everything. … I don’t know how much defensive metrics are going to give me (to help make the decision). For me, it’s visual, and just something I thought might help us.”
• So Saturday is our first chance to see this new outfield. Who’s going to be in center field when the Yankees open the spring schedule? “I think Melky Mesa,” Girardi said. Oh, well, that doesn’t help.
• Actually, Girardi said he wants to get Mesa in some early games because Mesa has been added to the Dominican Republic roster for the World Baseball Classic. Shortstop Gil Velazquez is also going to play in the WBC for Team Mexico. Girardi said he was pretty sure lefty Juan Cedeno is also going to play, but I didn’t see Cedeno in the clubhouse to make sure.
• Also making Saturday’s road trip: Both Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. “I think Robbie is scheduled to play six out of the (first) eight games, and Tex is five out of the eight,” Girardi said. That’s an attempt to get them plenty of playing time before they leave for the WBC.
• Didn’t see Phil Hughes today, but Girardi said Hughes felt better today. “Good sign,” Girardi said.
• Also feeling better is reliever Mark Montgomery who came through today’s workout with no problems with his back. He’s still scheduled to throw a bullpen tomorrow.
• J.R. Murphy was hit in the side during a fielding drill — I didn’t see it, but I was told he was not participating in the drill when a bad throw hit him — but he’s apparently fine. Girardi said there were no injuries today. That’s one of those no-news-is-good-news situations.
• Girardi said Vidal Nuno is probably going to start the third game of spring training (David Phelps and Adam Warren are starting the first two). Girardi guessed that the regular big league starters probably won’t get in games until the first week of March.
• Talked to Triple-A hitting coach Butch Wynegar for a while today. Add him to the list of people raving about Ramon Flores. Wynegar said his nickname for Flores is “Bobby” because Flores reminds him of Bobby Abreu. Just has a knack for hitting.
• Also impressing Wynegar this spring: First baseman Kyle Roller. Wynegar likes his mature approach in the cage.
• My own observation from today: I can see why the Yankees like Cito Culver. I realize he hasn’t hit much, but he was pretty slick during fielding drills. And he wasn’t even really fielding balls. He was simply moving from shortstop to cover second base while the team was practicing 1-6-3 double plays. He’s very quick and fluid making that catch, transfer and release.
• Another observation: Corban Joseph spent some time going through drills with Kevin Youkilis at third base this morning. Youkilis was talking to him the entire time, seemed to be especially explaining his approach to charging bunts.
• Today’s random clubhouse conversation was with Shane Greene, the 24-year-old starter who pitched in Tampa last year. He’s overshadowed in this organization, but he’s a tall kid, and while I was talking to him I remembered that one position player — honestly can’t remember who — was talking earlier in the week about facing Greene early in spring training as if it were entirely unfair because of his huge fastball. Greene said he had Tommy John in 2008 and returned from the surgery suddenly throwing in the low to mid 90s (he’d never been above 89 before the surgery). First time he faced hitters after Tommy John was at a pre-draft workout with the Yankees, who drafted him a few weeks later. This whole thing happened incredibly fast for him, but the fact he’s in big league camp tells you he has the Yankees attention.
Associated Press photos