The New York Yankees will welcome Curtis Granderson back to the lineup Tuesday night, after the outfielder began the season on the disabled list when a pitch by J.A. Happ broke his wrist during his first Spring Training at bat.
Without their slugging center fielder (and starting shortstop, first baseman, third baseman and stopgap third baseman) the Yankees haven’t missed a beat, going 24-14 and sitting atop the American League East by a game over the Orioles.
Somehow, without resorting to using duct tape and chicken wire, manager Joe Girardi has kept this ‘small ball’ version of the Yankees afloat despite their endless string of injuries. It certainly helps that CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have been anchors in the rotation while the evergreen Mariano Rivera is 15-for-15 in save opportunities. Vernon Wells, picked up on the cheap from the Angels late in Spring Training, has a WAR of 1.5 which is higher than anyone on his former team other than Mike Trout.
Granderson will slot into one of the three outfield spots, sending either Wells, Brett Gardner or Ichiro to the bench. Ichiro, batting .249 with a .649 OPS, seems the most likely candidate to sit but that call will likely come down to whatever Girardi’s binder tells him to do.
In 29 other cities, a 40-home run outfielder would be welcomed back into the starting lineup with open arms, but this being New York and the Yankees there probably has to be controversy involved. The usual cliches about the team’s “chemistry” will be brought up sooner rather than later, likely during the first inning of tonight’s YES broadcast.
Yankees’ fans aren’t exactly noted for their patience. Remember, this is the place where WFAN callers can figure out a scenario to rationalize that Lyle Overbay is more viable option for the postseason than Mark Teixeira. So expect those types of fans and callers to come out in force to complain about Granderson (and his many strikeouts) as soon as the Yankees lose a game with him in the lineup.
Even if some segment of Yankees’ fans are still sore about Granderson’s 2012 postseason — he struck out 16 times in 20 at-bats along with an 0-for-11 ALCS — his bat will be a welcome addition to the lineup. As it stands Wells and Robinson Cano have carried the Yanks’ offensively. Early-season surprise Travis Hafner has cooled off, hitting just .133 in May after an April that produced six homers and a 1.104 OPS. Unless Hafner, who had an MRI Tuesday on his shoulder, picks it back up, Wells could slot into a designated hitter spot to keep his bat in the lineup. (This is what the Yanks are doing tonight vs. Felix Hernandez and the Mariners.)
It’s already been a strange 2013 media cycle for the Yankees, as they were written off by most in Spring Training only to surprise early in the season. How the team — and massive media covering it on a 24/7 basis — reacts as the Bombers slowly welcome back their disabled stars into the lineup should be interesting, especially when and if everybody’s favorite third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, returns sometime after the All-Star break.