I spent some time in Cooperstown talking with a writer friend of mine from Detroit who was of the opinion that the Tigers got the best of the off-season deal in which they acquired outfield prospect Austin Jackson from the Yankees in the three-team trade involving the Diamondbacks that sent Curtis Granderson to the Bronx.
My friend had a point to a degree. Jackson is not your ideal leadoff hitter (25 walks, 98 strikeouts), but he is batting .318 and has played a very good defensive center field. Granderson, on the other hand, has taken longer to have an impact with the Yankees. At 29, he is six years older than Jackson and has a contract for a $5.5 million salary while Jackson is being paid $400,000. Much of this leans the argument to my colleague’s side.
But no trade should be judged that quickly. Things can change, and they have lately for Granderson. Frankly, two weeks ago it could be safely said that Granderson was having not just an off year but a bad year. Heck, 2009 was considered an off year for him, and he still hit 30 home runs, so what were Yankees fans to make of him in 2010?
The Yankees envisioned Granderson taking to the new Yankee Stadium much the way Johnny Damon did last year. That hasn’t quite worked out, but over the past two weeks Granderson has shown signs of settling in to warrant the confidence manager Joe Girardi has expressed in him.
Maybe it has been a steady dose of American League Central pitching against the Yankees of late, but Granderson has come alive offensively. He made the difference in Monday night’s 3-2 Yankees victory over the Indians with a two-run homer in the eighth off Jake Westbrook that swung the pitcher’s duel in favor of Javier Vazquez, who is 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA over his past four starts and has not lost since June 30.
It might have been a second consecutive two-dinger game for Granderson, but a drive in the sixth hit off the top of the right field wall and he was thrown out at second trying for a double. The hits extended Granderson’s modest hitting streak to six games in which he is batting .429 with a double, three home runs and four RBI in 21 at-bats. Go back even further over a period of 14 games and Granderson is batting .346 with two doubles, three homers and five RBI in 52 at-bats to lift his season average from .225 to .249.
Granderson hit .249 last year, so there is nothing all that exciting about that as an average. It is, however, a major improvement over .225. That the Yankees have the best record in the majors has allowed Granderson to stay under the radar somewhat this year. This recent stretch whets the appetite of fans hoping he will fulfill expectations.
As for the bullpen, Girardi continues to make adjustments. He named Dustin Moseley to start Thursday night’s game at Cleveland and return Sergio Mitre to long relief. Even more telling was his decision in the eighth inning Monday night to bring in David Robertson and not Joba Chamberlain to replace Vazquez after a leadoff walk. The move paid off as Robertson got a double play. Joe then brought in lefthander Boone Logan against lefty-swinging Shin-Soo Choo, who struck out.
Girardi said he would continue such maneuvering based on matchups, but it also means that Chamberlain, who is 0-1 with a 12.00 ERA in his past five outings, won’t be getting the automatic eighth-inning call. Competition for roles on a team can often be the antidote for complacency.