A re-’cycle’-ed lineup
The Yankees’ lineup seemed awfully short Thursday night without Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter in it. Manager Joe Girardi had no second thoughts about giving Jeter a blow even after knowing that Teixeira would be better served with a day off to give his jammed right shoulder time to heal.
Girardi is committed to making sure that Jeter and Alex Rodriguez not wear themselves out with overuse. They are getting to an age (DJ is 36, A-Rod 35) where a day away from the grind is a necessity to keep them fresh for the latter part of the season. As for Teixeira, he is responding well to treatment, but the shoulder is still sore. He said after Wednesday night’s game that it is very uncomfortable to swing a bat, so Girardi did the right thing to play it safe.
Moving into Jeter’s leadoff spot was Curtis Granderson. Brett Gardner had begun the season as the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching, but the left fielder was fighting a 4-for-41 (.098) slump, so Girardi kept him lower in the order, in the 8-hole ahead of Eduardo Nunez, who got a start at shortstop.
Taking over the 3-hole for Teixeira was Robinson Cano, whom many consider a classic 3-hitter. Girardi was asked throughout spring training about whether he would move Cano, who usually bats fifth, into the 3-spot, but the manager has resisted and for what I think is good reason.
For one thing, what ain’t broke don’t need fixin’. Cano proved a reliable RBI man in the 5-hole last year, and there are worst places to put a switch hitter with power like Teixeira than third in the lineup. Cano has also been effective in the cleanup spot when A-Rod is out of the lineup. The second baseman’s versatility is a great strength for the Yankees.
They have struggled offensively in the series against the White Sox, who have gotten some solid pitching. The Yankees managed to take a 2-0 lead in the finale of the four-game set before they had a hit. Chicago starter Edwin Jackson experienced a bout of wildness in the third inning and walked four batters in a row, the last (Nick Swisher) driving in a run. Cano got the second run in with a fly ball.
The Yankees ended the hitless spell when Gardner opened the fifth with a home run to right. Nunez followed with a double off the left-field wall. Suddenly, the batting order had gained some length. Granderson tripled and Swisher singled as the Yankees hit for the cycle in four successive at-bats. You don’t see that every day.
And that was just the beginning. Cano and Rodriguez made it six hits in a row with a single and a double, respectively, off reliever Tony Pena. The Yankees didn’t make an out that inning until the 10th at-bat, a strikeout of Gardner, after a run-scoring single by Russell Martin and a bases-loaded walk to Jorge Posada had pushed the lead to 8-0.
Did CC Sabathia ever love this? The big guy has been pitching with very little wiggle room all year and enjoyed his first real cushion. Long innings can often work against a pitcher as he waits to get back on the mound. Sabathia started the sixth after a 32-minute bottom of the fifth with a walk to Carlos Quentin but recovered quickly with strikeouts of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn.
Things got a bit sloppy in the seventh. Nunez’s second error and a balk by Sabathia fueled a three-run White Sox rally, but the Yankees got the runs back in the bottom half on a sacrifice fly by Gardner and a two-run homer by Swisher, his first ending a drought of 89 plate appearances.
That may settle Swish down. He admitted recently that he was trying to hit home runs because he was conscious of not having one yet. That is a dangerous mistake for a hitter. Now he can get back to focusing in on quality at-bats, of which he and his teammates had an abundance to earn a split in the series.
The runs off Sabathia were not earned, so the latest turn through the Yankees rotation was a manager’s delight – three earned runs in 35 1/3 innings (0.76 ERA) and an average of seven innings per start – a combination of quality and depth.