With few alternatives on the roster, Brett Gardner has emerged as the Yankees everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter, and he’s made the most of it with the highest batting average on the team and a recent hot streak that’s made him the American League’s Player of the Week.
“When Jeet started the year on the DL, we just said he was going to be our leadoff hitter,” Joe Girardi said. “I’ve always liked him up there. … He’s swung the bat well against left handers and worked pitchers. We like that. I think that’s important.”
Gardner talked a little bit yesterday about his strong return from the disabled list, his surprising number of home runs and his occasionally hard-to-explain hesitation on the bases.
Feel good to have a set spot in the lineup and in the field?
“It’s just been good to be healthy and be out there. I haven’t really thought about it like that, but it’s been good to be able to come to the field knowing you’re going to be leading off and playing center field. I guess it makes things a little easier, maybe.”
Intentionally being more aggressive early in the count?
“Maybe a little bit. I haven’t really tried to change my approach up too much, just be ready to hit (and) get good pitches to hit. If I’m feeling good and swinging the bat well, there’s no need to wait around for an 0-2 changeup if you can get a fastball early in the count over the plate. You swing at pitches you’re supposed to swing at and take pitches you should be taking.”
Any reason for all the home runs?
“I never go up there trying to hit a home run. Last year was pretty much a wasted year for me. I’ve always been trying to work with K Long on taking my A swing and being more consistent. It’s always been a work in progress. Still trying to make improvements with it. Maybe a little bit of that is paying off. … I don’t really worry about that. I might end up with six or seven home runs. I might end up with 15 or something. I’m not concerned with that. My job’s to get on base. If I turn on one and hit it good, then great, but I’m happier hitting line drives up the middle.”
Numbers especially satisfying after missing most of last year?
“I don’t really worry about the results as much, just (happy about) being able to stay healthy and stay on the field. My elbow has felt great the whole year. I was a little concerned about that just because at the end of the season last year I didn’t get many at-bats with it. Always wondered in the offseason how it’s going to feel, but it’s felt great. I’ve been healthy so I can’t complain.”
Why go long periods of time without running very much?
“I wouldn’t say anyone thing in particular. Maybe I feel better. Maybe sometimes I’m not running, maybe I don’t feel great. Maybe the guy behind me is swinging earlier in the count and I don’t get as many opportunities. … I think the first month, month and a half of the season I wasn’t getting on base a lot. Been getting on base more recently. I feel like I’ve been doing a better job of getting on base, been taking some more walks, that leads to opportunities to run.
“I know that’s a big part of my game, and I know I want to get into scoring position for Robbie, but early in the season I got thrown out with Robbe Cano at the plate, and that’s not something that I want to do. Just because I’m over there at first base, even if I’m not running, it’s changing the way he’s getting pitched. He should be getting more fastballs to hit, and hopefully he get on a tear here and finish up this road trip nice and help us keep winning.”
Does it make more sense to not run with Cano at the plate?
“I wouldn’t say it makes more sense. If I’m going to be safe 100 percent of the time, I might as well go and take second base. If they want to walk him, so be it and let Vernon or whoever’s behind him hit. It’s just a matter of, our lineup’s a little different than we might have expected coming into the season. We got a lot of guys hurt, and nobody probably felt Robbie Cano would be hitting second most of the time but that’s where he’s been. I’m not using him hitting behind me as an excuse for not running more, that’s for sure. I’ve sat down and talked to him and he wants me to run whenever I can run. Maybe I’ll have a good week on the bases, we’ll see.”
Associated Press photos