When Kelly Johnson lost his regular playing time earlier this season, he didn’t have to dig deep to find a reason why. Yangervis Solarte’s hot start wasn’t a well kept secret, especially not in the Yankees clubhouse.
“We all have to have roles,” Johnson said. “Obviously I’m wanting to win. When you get guys who are swinging the bat as well as Solarte or whoever, if you’re a guy that’s losing playing time because someone is doing that well and you’re winning games, you’re not going to be that upset. But at the same time, playing always helps especially to find a groove. It’s hard to find a groove if you’re not really playing a lot.”
Johnson’s in a bit of a groove now. He’s hit .379/.438/.448 in his past 10 games, a stretch that dates all the way back to May 28. That’s 10 games in three weeks, but tonight will be Johnson’s fifth start in one week. As he’s produced — and Solarte has slumped — Johnson’s seen more time at third.
“I just think he’s in a good groove,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s also been on base through the walks, his at-bats have been really good. He went through a tough time. He started out pretty good, went through a tough time, and I think part of that was probably not playing as regularly as he was in the beginning. He’s gotten it going again, and that’s why he’s playing.”
Any explanation necessary early this season when Johnson lost his starting job?
“I think there was an understanding that Solo was doing really well,” Girardi said. “… You tell guys, ‘You’re still going to play, but Solo’s going well right now.’ And it’s kind of understood, in a sense. That’s kind of how the game works. But we know Kelly’s a good player, and we’ve said all along that he’s going to help us, and that’s what he’s doing right now.”
• Big opportunity for the Yankees to finish off a three-game sweep against the team that currently leads the division. “I think the bigger thing is we’re playing in our division, we’re playing at home, and we’ve talked about that we need to play better at home,” Girardi said. “These last two days have been nice. It would be big. That’s the team that we’re chasing right now.”
• Because of recent workload, Dellin Betances is not available tonight. Girardi said he would check with Adam Warren. He might be available, might not.
• Brett Gardner is riding a hot streak, and Girardi indicated that he has no plans of changing those top three spots in the order right now. Jacoby Ellsbury seems likely to stay in the No. 3 spot for a while. “I like what I see out of both of them,” Girardi said. “You can only have one leadoff guy. I feel like our lineup has two of them, in a sense, but you can only use one of them. Gardy’s done a really good job at the top of the order. It really lengthens our lineup. It puts a lot of speed up top in front of these guys who can hit the doubles and the home runs, so it’s seemed to work OK.”
• Carlos Beltran continues to play catch, but there’s still no sense of when he might actually play right field again. “I can’t really give you a guess,” Girardi said. “He’s going to play catch. He will continue to play catch here, but I don’t really have a date on it. We’re trying to lengthen him out in a little bit where he’s throwing farther, and increasing the intensity a little bit, but we don’t really have a date. It’s kind of a day-by-day thing because we kind of told him, if he feels anything, we probably need to stop it. So I don’t really have a date.”
• We’ve seen David Phelps have both good and bad starts this year. So what does Phelps need to do to be successful against this Blue Jays lineup? “I think he has to be ahead in the count,” Girardi said. “I think that’s what you have to do with these lineups. You have to be aggressive. it’s one thing to be aggressive, but you also have to be aggressive and make some quality pitches and you can’t nibble too much because if you nibble too much you’re going to be in long counts and they’re going to see everything and you’re not going to last very long because your pitch count is going to skyrocket. So, to me, it’s being aggressive with first-pitch strikes and making them defensive.”
Associated Press photos