There have been several instances when Yankees manager Joe Girardi has shown a soft spot for veteran players, often sticking with them as age deteriorates their performance on the field.
We saw it last season when he batted a 40-year-old Derek Jeter in the two-hole, even with Jeter putting up the worst offensive numbers of his career. More recently, fans have clamored for Girardi to replace second baseman Stephen Drew with highly-regarded rookie Rob Refsnyder, yet the Yankees’ skipper continues to trot Drew out there, sub-.200 batting average and all.
But in the case of who will be his everyday right fielder, Girardi may be deviating from his usual stance. Carlos Beltran is a proud player who has been among the best in baseball throughout his career, but backup Chris Young has absolutely mashed this season against left-handed pitching to the tune of a .360/.415/.686 slash line. Factor in that Beltran, a switch-hitter, is batting 32 points higher against right-handed pitching, and it’s fairly obvious that who plays should be based on which side the opposing team’s starting pitcher throws from.
“With how good he’s been off of left-handers, you have to find a way to get him into the lineup,” Girardi said of Young. “I would think that against every lefty that we face this year moving forward – and it’s been that way so far – he’s probably going to be in there.”
With the Baltimore Orioles starting lefty Wei-Yin Chen in Tuesday night’s series opener, Girardi made the obvious choice and penciled Young into the lineup instead of Beltran.
Beltran, to his credit, stood behind his manager’s decision.
“It is what it is,” he said. “You got to understand you’re not young, like 22, anymore. So you’ve got to be ready and know that manager also has a plan that he’s behind. The good thing with Joe is that he communicates, so I have no problem with that. He lets me know basically the days he thinks I need off and I try to go with it.”
Still, while the lineup card leads us to believe that Young will play over Beltran against lefties, Girardi didn’t want to use the term “platoon.” Protecting the egos of his veteran players is simply part of the job, which is a big reason why he’s earned the trust of his team. But it’s also important to those in the clubhouse that Girardi does what’s in the best interest of the team, and in this case, he seems to be doing just that.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be a platoon,” Girardi said. “That’s not what I’m saying because I said I would give (Brett Gardner) a day off and (Jacoby Ellsbury) a day off. The other thing that I’m being somewhat careful with is that he hasn’t had a ton of right-handed at-bats lately. We’ll kind of work him in slow and go from there.”
• It makes sense that, if Girardi is going to give an occasional day off to either Ellsbury or Gardner, it would come against a left-handed pitcher. Both guys bat left-handed, but with Beltran’s shaky defense in right and the age factor, it’s probably safe to assume that he’ll usually be the guy to sit. Even Beltran acknowledged how valuable Young has been in his role. “He’s doing great,” Beltran said. “It’s good to see that. The guys that aren’t playing every day are coming in doing a good job for the team, so that also helps a lot. It helps everybody. It gives the manager another option. So when he thinks, ‘I give Gardner or Carlos a day off, this is a guy I can play.’ Chris Young’s been great this year and I’m just happy that he’s having a successful season.”
• Young has clearly had less success against right-handed pitchers (he’s hitting a Stephen Drew-like .178 vs. RHP), but he claimed that he’s comfortable in any situation. “It doesn’t really change much mentally,” Young said. He did acknowledge that, when it comes to lefties, “…throughout the season, I’m seeing them pretty good.”
• Girardi was asked about how he’ll manage his older position players in the second half, specifically Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. “We have a number of long stretches coming up as we move forward these last two and a half months, so I’m going to have to pick days to give them days off,” he said. “Some day games after night games, possibly, maybe take one guy out and DH another guy, that sort of thing. I think it’s important that we keep them strong.”
• Beltran was asked if he thinks he benefits from occasional days off. “I think we all do,” he said. “Once you get a day off you can focus on other things. In my case, I can go the gym do my workout routine, go the cage work on my swing. You know that late in the game you’re going to get an at-bat. In the American League, there is no such thing as a full day off. You’ve got to be ready and be prepared, so I think we all benefit from that.”
• Ellsbury had at least one hit in each of his first four games after coming off of the disabled list two weeks ago, but since then, he’s gone a combined 1 for 17. Any concern? “I think he’s due to get hot here pretty soon,” Girardi said. “It would be a great time right now. It probably didn’t help that he played those four or five games, then we had four days off.”
• Prior to Sunday, Gardner had an eight-game hitting streak, as he continues to be one of the Yankees’ most consistent players. Earlier today, he was named the Yankees’ “Heart & Hustle Award” winner. Each MLB team gets one nominee for the award, and Gardner has now been selected four times in the last six years. “I’m not surprised,” Girardi said. “How hard he plays the game and dives all over the place and what he’s meant to this club, I’m not surprised.”
• There has been a lot of chatter in the last 48 hours about the white cleats that Gardner wore during Sunday’s game — Gardner joked that it gave us something to write about on the off day — and he confirmed today that he has been warned by the Yankees and MLB not to wear them again. “I won’t be wearing them again,” Gardner said. “That was a one-time thing. I definitely got some warnings about that.”
• The Yankees come into this series with a four-game lead over the second place Orioles, so this represents a chance to bury last year’s division champs a bit more. It’s still July, but Girardi wants the Yankees to seize the opportunity. “I think that every series in our division from here on out is extremely important,” he said. “You start to run out of dates is what happens as we move forward, so this is a big series. And you’re still going to have a lot of games, but it gives you an opportunity to put more distance between you and other clubs.”
Associated Press photos