The Yankees typically have their young minor league catchers take some ground balls at the infield corners. Might not play them in a game at first or third base, but the Yankees like to give their catchers at least a little bit of experience fielding ground balls so that they’re familiar with the job if that sort of defensive versatility is ever necessary.
Brian McCann said the Braves don’t do that.
Tonight, McCann will make his first professional start at first base. He’d never played the position at all until this season, when he’s had four innings of late-game experience. He does not regularly take ground balls at first, and he said those late-inning replacement situations are where he’s had the bulk of his work at the position. Today during batting practice, he was at first base with infield coach Mick Kelleher trying to get ready for tonight’s game.
“I feel comfortable going out there for a game and doing the job that needs to be done,” McCann said. “Not a whole lot (of work at the position), but I’ll go out there, let my instincts take over and hopefully do a good job.”
So why McCann at first? It starts with Mark Teixeira’s wrist being still a little sore. Also, Joe Girardi felt that scuffling Yangervis Solarte could use a day off. And he wanted to give Derek Jeter a day so that he could have two in a row heading into another long stretch of consecutive games. That left very few options, and McCann was the choice.
Since spring training, Girardi has said he wouldn’t want to put McCann at first, yet here we are.
“I was a little hesitant to do it,” Girardi said. “I saw him over there those couple of times (in the late innings) and I’m a little more open to it. Just because of some of the injuries (it makes more sense). You know, there are a lot of things you don’t plan on doing during the course of the season that kind of go awry when some things happen. I never planned on playing Vernon Wells at third base last year. Never in my wildest dreams, but it happened. That’s where you have to be sometimes a little creative.”
“Just catch the ball,” McCann said. “Catch the ground balls, make the routine plays, and just do my job. … I’ll be looking in the dugout quite a bit trying to know where to play, and I’ll be talking to B-Rob for advice, telling me where to go.”
• No real change in Teixeira’s status. He’s still going to see his doctor tomorrow, and he still expects to be back soon. “There’s still more improvement, but he still feels it,” Girardi said. “We thought it was in his best interest to give him another day, which really gives him two days.”
• Carlos Beltran had a scheduled day off from swinging. He’ll do tee and toss with Kevin Long tomorrow.
• Shawn Kelley played catch again today. He’s throwing a bullpen on Friday.
• No change with Michael Pineda. Still scheduled for an intrasquad game on Sunday.
• Although John Ryan Murphy has some infield experience in the minors — 14 games at third base in A-ball — he said the Yankees never approached him about playing first base today. Girardi also said that he does not consider Alfonso Soriano to be a realistic option at first base. The Yankees were going to give Soriano some time at first base this spring, but they scrapped that plan. “We felt that Kelly’d be able to handle it (as the backup first baseman),” Girardi said. “And I still think that Kelly can handle it. But with some of the guys struggling a little bit, this is kind of what we chose to do today. Mark’s going to play most of the time over there, but the way our club is designed, this is what we’re doing.”
• Girardi said the decision to use McCann has nothing to do with Johnson’s recent struggles at first base. He said that if Solarte were playing today, Johnson would probably be back at first base. He does not expect McCann to become the go-to backup first baseman going forward. This could be a one-time thing. “I’m not looking at this as being an option going forward right now,” Girardi said. “I still consider him my everyday catcher.”
• Girardi said Jeter did not put up a fight about being out of the lineup. “I think he understood what I was trying to do here,” Girardi said. “We’re in another long streak here, a really long streak.”
• Why push Murphy all the way to the No. 5 spot in the lineup? “Just trying to split up our lefties,” Girardi said. “We have a lot of lefties in the lineup tonight and I’m trying to split them up, and he’s swung the bat extremely well for us. … With the way Murph’s played, I thought this was probably our best lineup.”
Associated Press photos