The Yankees used 40 different players before they promoted Zoilo Almonte on Tuesday. They tried eight different outfielders before they put Almonte in left field tonight. This has been a season of experimentation — of trades and waiver claims; call-ups and minor league signings — and it’s now time for Almonte to take his turn.
“You don’t ever think a kid’s going to run out there and get three hits, but we knew he has a good swing,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s been a prospect, and he’s been on our radar for a while. … A couple of years ago in spring training was the first time we saw him. We liked his swing. We said, ‘This kid has a pretty swing, and we expect him to be a big league player at some point.’ And the time has arrived.”
Whether Almonte has truly arrived remains to be seen. One night certainly doesn’t make a career, but for at least one night, the 24-year-old switch hitter was a bright spot. His solo home run and ensuing curtain call brought some glimmer of hope for an offense that badly needed a boost.
“I felt good because it was a sign that things are starting to be where they should be,” Almonte said. “… I’ve always thought (getting to the big leagues) was going to happen, God willing. I really never thought about time. As long as I kept working hard, I knew it was going to happen.”
Almonte came into the Yankees system way back in 2005. He was never a huge prospect, but always an interesting one. He’d hit somewhere in the high .270s, pop a dozen or so home runs, and always give just enough reason to think he might make it. Coming off a good Double-A season, this spring might have been a prime opportunity to earn a spot, but Almonte struggled.
“He was one of those kids that pressed a little bit in spring training,” Girardi said. “But he went down, and he’s been hot in Triple-A, and he had a great day today.”
Almonte acknowledged pressing in big league camp — “Because the opportunity is there,” he said — but doors keep opening the season, and the Yankees keep looking for the pieces that might fit. Injuries and underwhelming numbers have left an opening in the outfield, and tonight Almonte took advantage of it. Until proven otherwise, he seems like the Yankees clear best bet against righties (he’s always been a better left-handed hitter), which could lead to more opportunities against lefties.
“I felt a little nervous,” Almonte said. “It’s not easy for me, but thankfully everything up to this point feels good.”
• Girardi acknowledged postgame that the Yankees plan to bring up Ivan Nova to start on Sunday. “That is our plan as of right now,” Girardi said. As for who goes down, that could depend on who pitches tomorrow.
• On a day full of minor league moves, the Yankees added one more when they made a minor trade for utility man Brent Lillibridge. Although he has quite a bit of big league time — he’s basically another Alberto Gonzalez — Lillibridge is heading to Triple-A to help out that overwhelmingly thin roster. In the past week or so the Yankees have added Fernando Martinez, Corey Paterson, Randy Ruiz and Lillibridge to help out Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Triple-A roster is basically as banged up as the big league roster.
• The Yankees had 11 hits tonight, their most since May 29. All but two of those hits were singles. Almonte and Lyle Overbay were the only Yankees with more than one hit. Jayson Nix was the only Yankees starter without a hit.
• Why bring in Mariano Rivera after it became a four-run game? “Our bullpen has been used a lot the past few days, and Mo’s been one of the guys that has not been used a lot,” Girardi said. “To make sure you have everyone tomorrow, and you don’t want him to get stale, I used him.”
• Eight hits off David Phelps, but he did a fine job limiting the damage to two runs through 5.2 innings. “I thought the important inning was when he had the bases loaded with one out and didn’t give up any runs after that,” Girardi said. “I thought that was a real important inning for him. Kept the score 2-2, and I thought that was the inning for us that changed the game.”
• Phelps pointed to a different inning. He thought the fifth inning was his big inning. He struck out Wil Myers to end it, stranding a runner at first. It came immediately after the Yankees had scored two runs to immediately regain the lead. “Had a shutdown inning,” Phelps said. “That’s what’s hurt me the last couple of starts.”
• Phelps liked the run support, but he also liked seeing Almonte make a nice running catch and a good throw in left field. “I’ve played with him enough,” Phelps said. “He showed it off a couple of times in spring training for me too. He’s got incredible tools.”
• Phelps has won three of his past four starts at home. This was only the third time in 10 starts that he failed to pitch at least six inning.
• Shawn Kelley has 28 strikeouts in his past 17 appearances. He has 43 strikeouts in 27.2 innings this year.
• Robinson Cano’s sacrifice fly was his 759th RBI, moving him past Roy White for sole possession of 18th place on the Yankees all-time RBI list.
• Since 1916, the only other Yankee to have at least three hits and a home run in a single game within his first three major league games was Oscar Azocar in 1990. Almonte is the first Yankee to have at least three hits in one of his first three big league games since D’Angelo Jimenez in 1999. That’s all from YES Network research.
• Almonte has his home run ball. He said he’s going to have the team sign it, then he’s going to give it to his mother.
• Final word goes to Almonte when asked if he’s ever had a better day than this: “Today and when my son was born,” he said.
Associated Press photos