Veteran fill-ins playing huge role as Yankees hit quarter pole
To this point, the Yankees have had 36 different players on their roster and still see eight, including four former Gold Glove-winning All-Star infielders, on the disabled list - but the team has surged to a 25-16 record, good for first place in the AL East and two games behind Texas for the best record in the American League.
With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira still not having played this season and Curtis Granderson just back this week, Joe Girardi has had to rely on a lot of newcomers - veterans and rookies alike - to carry the load, and they've responded more than capably.
"I've said it all along these guys have done an incredible job," Joe Girardi said of his newcomers. "You can talk about some of the additions that we made, the late additions that we made; I want to say Vernon played his first Spring Training game on a Tuesday, and Overbay on a Thursday - Overbay had a three day tryout that turned into four days - but for the most part they've all played pretty well."
Overbay and Wells are just two of the veterans the Yankees have brought in that have done more than fill in; in fact, in the case of the latter, Wells seems to have recaptured the form that made him a three-time All-Star in Toronto.
Through Thursday, Wells was hitting .295 with 10 homers and 23 RBI, numbers that tied him for the team lead in home runs with Robinson Cano and had him just three RBI behind Cano for that lead. Overbay, meanwhile, has posted a .260-6-24 line that has him third in RBI, and when you add in two others who are hurt but have also played well in Kevin Youkilis (.266-2-7) and Travis Hafner (.260-6-18), and it's a return to form for four players who, at least in some minds, had seen their best days pass.
Credit that to Brian Cashman, who for years has had a knack for taking chances on veteran players and getting the most out of them, a phenomenon that leaves Girardi unsurprised this group is performing so well.
"(I'm not surprised) at what these guys have done. Did I think many people expected them to do what they've done? Probably not, but these are still talented players," Girardi said. "They've had some down years (lately), whether it was due to injury or for whatever reason, and you knew they still had talent, but you weren't sure what you were going to get." This year, Cashman and Girardi knew they had a solid group, and the skipper never questioned that he would find a way to win with his replacements.
"I thought that if they play to their ability, we can do pretty well, because we like our pitching," Girardi said. "I think there were some question marks in what Lyle, Hafner, Vernon, and Youk had left, and for the most part they've all played pretty well. A couple of them are nicked up and we need to get them healthy again, but they've played pretty well."
Some of that success is bred from having a good clubhouse atmosphere, and Girardi admitted that despite all the new additions and constant roster flux, the Yankees' clubhouse has been a very harmonious one so far.
"I think their personalities do affect the clubhouse, and that affects the outcome of games. How? Well, a happy clubhouse is usually a great place to come and work, and players are happy to be around each other," Girardi said. "We're around each other a lot, and sometimes everyone gets a little irritated, but for the most part it's a quiet clubhouse that seems to enjoy each others' company; they laugh together, they have fun together, and that's important."
Of course, the flip side of having to rely so heavily on those veterans - as Girardi did with Raul Ibanez last year, for instance - is making sure they stay healthy. Youkilis has missed most of the last four weeks and Hafner is day-to-day with a shoulder issue, but Girardi feels he's done a good job managing that so far - and spoke to at least one of those players' fitness as helping that tremendously.
"I think you try to figure out days when you can get them days off; unfortunately, we're in a long stretch. Lyle, I chose to give him three days off (recently), and maybe I could give him a day off against a lefty coming up," Girardi said. "I talk a lot about how he's doing physically, and it's interesting, because I see him rolling along and he doesn't look tired to me. I see him working out before the games, doing the cardio thing he continually does, and I think, 'you just played 14 days in a row and you're still doing this?' but he does it. So obviously he's in incredible shape and as long as he's playing well, I'm not going to give him a day off until I feel he needs one."
And, of course, there's one veteran who, despite missing most of 2012 due to injury, is back and better than ever despite an increased workload. That is one Mariano Rivera, who is 16-for-16 in save opportunities and is on pace to shatter his career record in saves in his final season simply by being himself.
"I don't see a whole lot of difference in Mo from year to year; when you look at his numbers, he's consistent every year. I think a lot of people have been surprised because of his injury, and because of his age, with what he's done so far this year, but the one thing Mo has consistently done in his career is stay in great shape," Girardi said. "He's a great athlete, he really hasn't hurt his arm in a number of years after having Tommy John a long time ago, and he continues to be efficient. Knock on wood, you don't see very many innings where Mo throws 20 pitches, and I think that helps him bounce back easier than a lot of other relievers. He has one great pitch and he's very consistent with it, and I think it helps him too, because (maybe having to throw just one pitch) doesn't take as much of a toll on your body."
No matter what the secret to the fountain of youth may be, Joe Girardi and the Yankees will take it - and, if they can just keep up the pace of the first quarter as everyone returns and re-assimilates, they'll end up winning 100-plus games…a mark that's even better than last year.