Less than two hours before today’s first pitch, Joe Girardi still wasn’t sure what his lineup would look like. He said, “I’m trying to talk to a couple of guys before I put it up,” but it was clear that his biggest concern is Kevin Youkilis’ balky back.
Youkilis returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing six games due to the back injury, and now it appears that he’ll be back out of the lineup for today’s series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Yesterday he felt OK, today I’m not so sure, though,” Girardi said. “I think he’s a little stiff and I think I’m probably going put (Jayson Nix) back at third.”
Youkilis’ back issues are concerning on many levels, as he has become a very important cog in the Yankees’ lineup. As a right-handed bat in the middle of a lineup that features several lefties, he’s relied on to break things up and produce runs.
“He’s an important guy to our lineup because he kind of surrounds some of our left-handed hitters and he’s a production guy, he’s a home run guy, and he’s important,” Girardi said. “We have to get this right, and we can’t push it too fast. If there are days that he’s stiff, you have back off of it a little bit and try again the next day.”
• Girardi wasn’t sure if Youkilis will go for any further testing, but he did say that he’ll certainly see the team doctor to make that determination. What was clear is that Girardi is getting a bit worried. “It’s a little concerning for me,” he said. “I’ve said all along that backs can be tricky. I’m a guy that’s had to deal with it for a number of years, and sometimes you have no idea why it acts up. Sometimes it’s may be one play or something you do, but sometimes it can be as simple as bending over to pick up a ball or something, and all of a sudden you lock up. It’s concerning.”
• With Youkilis being out, Nix becomes a very important player for the Yankees. Not only because he’ll take Youk’s place in the field at third, but also because he provides the Yankees with another right-handed bat. Nix has hung around on this team for a couple of seasons when it has looked at times like his job might be in jeopardy, but he continues to do the little things well. He’s been productive this season, and Girardi showed his faith in him by batting Nix second yesterday against lefty J.A. Happ. “Not for us,” Girardi said when asked if he’s been surprised by Nix’s play. “The one thing that we always say about Nixie is that he’s a baseball player. That’s what he is. You have guys that are talented that don’t always have the best instincts, and then you have guys who have great instincts that aren’t as talented as other guys. Nixie is just a baseball player. He knows what to do with the baseball when he gets it, he knows how to run the bases, he knows what he needs to do with his at-bats. He’s got good instincts.”
• Phil Hughes will get the start today for the Yankees, and has shown steady improvement in each outing so far this season. He’s been up-and-down in his career, but if he can maintain some level of consistency, it obviously bodes very well for the Yankees rotation behind their top three starters. “That’s the one thing that people always what is answers as to why things happen,” Girardi said when asked why he thinks Hughes has been pitching well of late. “It could just be the innings under his belt. I thought his last start he mixed his pitches probably better than he had in the previous starts, and maybe it’s just he’s getting more of a feel for his curveball, his slider and his changeup. I thought they did a really, really good job, whereas if you remember the start before, he didn’t really have a whole lot of things that start.”
• R.A. Dickey will get the start for Toronto, and Girardi spoke about his approach against knuckleballers. “They always talk about make sure it’s up,” he said. “Make sure it’s up in the zone when you swing at it. I’ve heard people say, ‘Down and low, let it go. If it’s high, let it fly.’ The other thing is I don’t think you can go up there with a plan that, ‘I’m going to look to pull the ball,’ or, ‘I’m going to look for one pitch to hit it in the seats.’ I think you kind of have to stay up the middle a little bit.”
• Girardi was also asked if a certain type of hitter tends to have more success against a guy who throws the knuckleball. Vernon Wells has the best numbers of any Yankee off of Dickey, hitting .538 against him in his career (7 for 13). Lyle Overbay has the worst numbers of any Yankee with at least 10 career at-bats against Dickey, hitting just .071 (1 for 14). “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve always thought guys that kind of hit the ball the other way sometimes have a better chance, but I think a lot of times it depends more on the guy with the knuckleball, how good it is that day.”
• Girardi did confirm that Chris Stewart will start at catcher, so no season debut yet for Austin Romine.
• As expected, Joba Chamberlain won’t be available for today’s game after pitching in three consecutive games. Mariano Rivera and David Robertson both will be available.
• Just as I’m finishing up my notes, the Yankees just put out the lineup: 1. Ichiro (CF); 2. Cano (2B); 3. Wells (LF); 4. Hafner (DH); 5. Boesch (RF); 6. Nix (3B); 7. Overbay (1B); 8. Nunez (SS); 9. Stewart (C).
• Here’s the lineup for the Blue Jays: 1. Lawrie (3B); 2. Rasmus (CF); 3. Bautista (RF); 4. Encarnacion (DH); 5. Cabrera (LF); 6. Lind (1B); 7. Izturis (2B); 8. Blanco (C); 9. Kawasaki (SS).
Associated Press photos