Francisco Cervelli broke his hand. Then he felt some recurring pain in his elbow. Then he was suspended for his connections to Biogenesis. This was supposed to be his year to play everyday, and he’s instead opened the door for two other unproven catchers. And as the Yankees head into their final month and a half, it seems one of those replacements is once again passing the torch.
Chris Stewart got the early playing time in the wake of Cervelli’s absence, but lately Austin Romine is getting more chances. Romine’s shown significant improvement, and it’s come just as Stewart is showing signs of fatigue.
“We think (Romine)’s made some really big improvements in his time here, and we’re happy with the way he’s playing. I don’t feel like I need to run Stew into the ground. I can keep them both involved and active. A lot of times when you can do that, you can get more productivity.”
The Cervelli injury gave Stewart his first chance to play regularly in the big leagues. It had taken him years to establish himself as a backup, and this was his first chance for everyday at-bats. He was pretty productive early, but he already has significantly more at-bats than in any other Major League season, and he’s approaching his career high for playing time counting the minors.
“I’m a little more sore than usual, but when I get in the game, my body feels like I haven’t caught,” Stewart said. “It feels fresh. It’s kind of afterward, waking up in the morning, the body is a little more creaky than it normally is. … I think I’m fortunate enough to be in the shape that I’m in to where it’s not anywhere worse and I haven’t had any drastic injuries that have kept me out for a while.”
On June 11, Stewart was hitting .284/.339/.373. He wasn’t particularly productive, but for a No. 9 hitter known for his defense, he was productive enough. Even as the calendar flipped to July, he was hitting .259 and had just doubled in two of his past four games. Since July 1, though, he’s hit .150/.244/.175.
“Obviously I know my numbers are dipping right now,” Stewart said. “But I don’t really feel much different than when I was going good. Could be a lack of strength — I’m just slightly missing some balls I was getting to earlier — but I’m just going to keep trying to take the same approach and try to do the best I can up there, and the results are going to be what they are.”
The Cervelli injury gave Romine his first extended call-up. He’d been up for a little while in 2011, but nothing like this. By the end of April, Romine was a full-time big leaguer, getting only part-time experience. Stewart was the trusted catcher, and Romine was the guy with something to prove. And early on, he did anything but prove himself.
“I struggled a little bit because I’d never done that before,” Romine said. “I’ve always been in the lineup every day. I’ve caught 100 games a year. (Being on the bench) was new for me. I (eventually) figured out a way to be able to stay ready, to hit more than I normally do and was used to (before games), and doing more catching drills so that my legs stay in shape. It was a different kind of approach that I’m not used to, but I think I got it down. The first couple of weeks, maybe the first month, I was pressing a little bit too much. I was excited to be up here. The game was moving a little too fast for my liking. Now that I know I’m going to be here the rest of the year or however long, it’s easier to just settle in and go back to hitting and catching and calling games and slowing down.”
Through early July, Romine hit .132 with three extra-base hits and no walks through his first 32 games. Beginning July 11, he’s hit .353 with five extra-base hits and five walks in 12 games, 10 of them starts. He’s earned increased playing time, and he’s gotten it.
“I started in a bad place, and I’ll be the first one to admit that,” Romine said. “I was struggling. It was hard. But I’m swinging at better pitches, getting into better counts, and walking. It’s slowing down. That’s a huge thing in this game. If you don’t slow this game down, you’re not going to see results. So that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m trying to finish this year strong. … I can do this. I can hit, like I’ve always hit in the minor leagues. I’m trying to prove it to them and to everybody.”
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Associated Press photos