Until this afternoon, most of my clubhouse conversations with Matt Diaz were about his son’s tee-ball team. Diaz is the coach, and he seems to like the team’s chances. Says there are some kids who can really throw. The story of Diaz as a player was one that could wait for another day, probably a day late in spring training when the competition for the Yankees bench was really coming into focus.
But all of that changed on Sunday.
“One of the reasons they bring guys like me into a camp like this is to add depth with the understanding that over the course of a long spring — especially this spring — and a long season, you’re going to need depth,” Diaz said.
The Yankees need depth now. They need someone to fill a hole in left field while Curtis Granderson recovers from a broken forearm. The young guys will get a look — “I think there’s a chance that a less-experienced player could show a lot of upside and we’ll like what we see,” Joe Girardi said — but the most established options are Diaz and Juan Rivera.
For the most part, Rivera’s story speaks for itself. He came up with the Yankees, had his best years as a legitimate power hitter with the Angels, and now he’s trying to prove himself all over again. For Diaz, the story comes with a rather unusual twist: He had offseason surgery to remove shards of a palm leaf that have been stuck in his thumb for more than six years.
“It was actually splinters (of) palm fronds,” Diaz said. “I now hire a lawn man and I wear Kevlar (or) leather gloves when I go outside. I have to be outside, I live in Florida and I love doing yard work and stuff, but I got stabbed with the palm frond in ’06. We tested it, the first time I had it dug out was the end of the season in ’09. There was an infection, my hand was swelling, and 2010 was the first time they cut me open in the operating room to get out a centimeter-long piece of it. And last year, again a puss comes from the inside out — it’s pretty awesomely disgusting when I’d get jammed by a pitch — sure enough I went for an MRI and there’s two more little pieces in a V in the nerve.”
So that’s the story of Matt Diaz: Stabbed by a leaf, finally feels healthy again, and suddenly competing for a job as the Yankees (temporary) starting left fielder.
• Johnny Damon said in a radio interview that he’s interested in filling the Yankees hole in left field, but the Yankees don’t seem interested.
• Melky Mesa said he’s still planning to play in the World Baseball Classic despite the opportunity to win a big league job this spring. “If they need me here, if something happens, the Yankees will say yes or no,” Mesa said.
• Girardi said he doesn’t plan on telling Mesa to skip out on the WBC. The Yankees already know Mesa is going to be playing quite a bit for Team Dominican Republic. That team’s manager is Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, who can evaluate Mesa first-hand. “(Mesa) is going to play against left handers there,” Girardi said. “It’s not something I can’t watch on TV or that sort of thing.”
• Both Girardi and Brian Cashman have shot down the idea of using Eduardo Nunez in left field.
• Dan Johnson has played a little bit of left field in his career. “We were going to give him a look at third and first,” Girardi said. “Do you expand roles? I don’t know.”
• If you were wondering, Girardi said he doesn’t think Granderson will have surgery to repair the broken bone.
• Not a bad debut for Vidal Nuno. Granted, he gave up a run and two doubles, but he also struck out five of the nine batters he faced. Makes you think his blend of offspeed pitches might be enough to get big league hitters out; at least makes him worth keeping an eye on this season in Triple-A.
• How’s Brett Gardner feeling in center field? “I feel good,” he said. “I had a little bit of running today, balls in the gap. On one I was running into a pretty stiff wind, didn’t feel like I was going anywhere, but I feel good out there.”
• Although his numbers haven’t been good, Diaz said he’s generally pleased with his at-bats so far this spring. “What I can control is how hard I work and the approach I’m taking at the plate,” Diaz said. “I’m happy with both of them right now. I’m not overly happy with Buck Showalter giving the Orioles off infield practice tomorrow just because I hit so many ground balls today. There will be adjustments made in my swing. That’s all I can control.”
• Today’s final score was 5-1 Orioles. The Yankees didn’t get on the board until there were two outs in the ninth. That’s when Corban Joseph drew a walk, stole second base and scored on Walter Ibarra’s single.
• Gardner and Jayson Nix combined for five of the Yankees eight hits. The other three came from Ibarra, Gil Velazquez and Greg Bird. … Johnson made a fielding error at third base. … Shane Greene, Kelvin Perez and Josh Spence each threw a scoreless innings. Ryan Pope, Bryan Mitchell and Nuno allowed a run apiece, and Corey Black allowed two runs. Black walked two guys and let them score on a Nate McLouth double.
• Both Chris Dickerson and Russ Canzler had hits for the Orioles. As it turns out, one of those two might have had a chance for some regular playing time had they stayed on the Yankees roster.
Associated Press photos