Joe Girardi Too Inconsistent to Be Yankee Manager For Long
The New York Yankees have played eight games. All have been on the road.
Then they traveled to Kansas City and won the first two before losing the final game on Sunday.
Monday they participated in their third straight home opener as Tampa Bay hosted their first home game and raised their first ever American League East and American League Pennant banners.
The Rays destroyed New York 15-5 in a game that was much uglier than the final score indicated.
Tuesday night, with a brilliant performance from A.J. Burnett, the Yankees beat the Rays 7-2 to even their record at 4-4.
There is no real story in that. The season is too young to worry about the record.
But there may be real cause for concern if some choices Manager Joe Girardi has made are analyzed.
Girardi failed to lead the Yankees to the playoffs in his first season in 2008 and it was the first time New York failed to play post season baseball since 1994.
In his first campaign in New York, Girardi was often criticized for mixing his line up too much and for not being consistent in the team he put on the field.
The same criticism can already be made in the very young 2009 season.
In the first two games in Baltimore, Girardi put the team on the field that everyone expected.
Derek Jeter was leading off and playing short. Johnny Damon hit second and was in left field. Mark Teixeira was at first hitting third, followed in the batting order by Hideki Matsui as the DH.
Jorge Posada followed in the five hole and was catching. Robinson Cano hit sixth and was at second, followed by Xavier Nady in right field, Cody Ransom at third base, and Brett Gardner in center field.
But after just two games, Girardi decided to make some changes.
For game number three against the Orioles, Girardi sat designated hitter, Matsui and replaced him with Xavier Nady. Nick Swisher took Nady’s place in right field.
The first question that comes to mind was whether Baltimore was starting a tough left handed pitcher and Girardi wanted to get another right handed bat in the line up which he could accomplish by keeping Nady in and adding switch hitting Nick Swisher.
But Baltimore started Alfredo Simon, a right handed pitcher who threw only 13 innings for the O’s in 2008 and had an ERA of 6.23.
So Girardi sat his DH in the third game of the season against a virtually unknown right hander.
And in the same game he sat catcher, Jorge Posada and started Jose Molina behind the plate. A switch hitter, Posada would have hit left handed off Simon, but Molina bats right handed.
Neither of those decisions made much sense, but the Yankees won the game.
In Kansas City, for the first game of the three game set, Girardi pulled Nady from the game and started Nick Swisher in right again, as Swisher had enjoyed a big night in Baltimore in the last game.
Swisher came through again with a double and an RBI. Late in the game though, Girardi pulled Swisher and put Melky Cabrera in right field in what could have been seen as a defensive move.
In the second game in KC, first baseman, Teixeira could not play with a wrist injury and Swisher moved to first base. Nady returned to right field and both Swisher and Nady collected two hits as the Yankees won their third game in a row.
The final game against the Royals saw more changes in the New York lineup. Tex' could not play again, so Swisher was back at first.
But that was not the only change Girardi made. Left fielder, Johnny Damon was benched and Melky Cabrera was put in left hitting seventh.
And Girardi shifted the entire batting order, moving Gardner to lead off, Jeter down to the two hole and had Molina hitting ninth and catching for Posada for the second time in four days.
Gardner got one hit and stole a base batting first. But the Yankees lost the game when the bullpen blew a lead in the eighth inning.
Monday night the Bombers came to the Trop' in time to see championship banners raised by the perennial doormat of the AL East. It turned out that the greatest team in baseball history became the doormat the Rays wiped their feet on all night long.
And Girardi had more changes in store. This time he benched the rookie center fielder who had been his lead-off hitter in the last game and started Cabrera in center.
Cabrera got two hits in the game and some could argue that Joe was protecting his favorite player by keeping lefty Gardner out of the lineup against tough southpaw Scott Kazmir.
But it also meant that Damon returned to the lineup after a day off and went hitless. Damon also hits left handed, and probably would rather have had this day off with Kazmir pitching than the day before in KC against righty Gil Meche.
The other odd thing about Girardi’s choice of removing Gardner from the line up is that it exposed the greatest difference between New York and Tampa Bay: speed.
The Rays got on base, but seldom stayed there long. B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, and Jesse Bartlett had a total of four steals off Yankee pitchers.
In the meantime the Yankees collected nine hits but no stolen bases. Gardner in the line up would not have equalized the speed component, but it would have made it less obvious.
Late in the game when things were so bad for New York that Girardi brought first baseman Nick Swisher in to pitch, and put Jorge Posada at first, Girardi made some other changes.
Rookie Ramiro Pena came in to replace Jeter at short, and Pena and Robinson Cano collided on a pop up.
Later, with Melky in left field for the first time this year and Gardner in center, they almost collided. Both of them have been in center field for almost their entire careers.
On Tuesday night, Damon was out of the line up again, this time reportedly with the flu.
Girardi started Swisher in left, a position he has not played for the Yankees before. Gardner was back in center and Nady in right.
Third baseman Cody Ransom was also benched and Ramiro Pena got the start at third. Pena made the team in spring training, but has never played above Double A ball before this year.
Girardi also sat his DH, Hideki Matsui again, putting catcher Jorge Posada in as DH and starting Jose Molina behind home plate for the third time this season.
Posada went hitless as did Pena and Molina. But Molina was an obvious steadying influence on pitcher A.J. Burnett.
So in the first eight games, the man who was named as DH at the beginning of the year has played in exactly one half the games. Matsui is not hitting at this point, but how can he be expected to hit if he does not play?
Posada who was expected to catch at least 110 games this year has caught five so far. He is on pace to catch barely 100 games this year.
Nick Swisher has now played four different positions if you count his brief stint as a relief pitcher in the Rays blowout on Monday night.
Understandably no one expected Teixiera to have the wrist injury which forced Swisher to first for three games.
And no one could have expected Damon out last night with flu.
But a pattern is developing which was seen throughout the season last year.
The pattern is that Girardi has a propensity to fiddle with his team, to push too many buttons.
This is without even analyzing his questionable use of the bullpen.
Seeing infielders collide on pop ups and outfielders being unsure where their teammate is on a close play has to raise concern.
Damon hit over .300 last year as the lead off hitter. Girardi started experimenting in spring training with having Damon hit second behind Jeter.
And then in Kansas City, Girardi benched Damon and made rookie Brett Gardner his lead-off hitter. Going into that game Gardner was hitting .227.
The very next game Girardi benched Gardner and put Damon back in.
Seeing this many changes in eight games is bizarre. A baseball team thrives on consistency.
Girardi has shown an inability to put the same team on the field game after game after game, and let them get used to each other.
If he cannot leave well enough alone, expect more inconsistent play from the Yankees.
A .500 record after eight games is no concern. His management style is a concern and if the Yankees are still .500 on June 1, Girardi may be gone as Yankee manager.
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