Joe Girardi confident heading into 2014Yankees skipper's position "night and day" from Opening Day 2013
"Last year, we laughed, because we were missing the middle of our order…and the end of our order, and the top, too," the manager recalled about his thought process at this time last year. "This year, we left with pretty much everyone in our order that we expected to be there, so I think it was a very productive and very competitive spring."
When it comes to that order, Girardi said the one that was penciled in for the final spring game (which was rained out) is likely the one you'll see on Tuesday. That lineup maybe raised some eyebrows because it had Brett Gardner hitting seventh ahead of Roberts and Johnson, but the skipper answered that question by praising Gardner's lineup versatility.
"He's a guy that we feel we could hit anywhere in the top or anywhere down to give some speed," Girardi said. "He had a pretty good year offensively last year, and that's where we decided to put him."
There were a lot of other questions this spring, too, perhaps the biggest of which centered around the health and productivity of The Captain, Derek Jeter - but while Jeter hit just .137 with one extra-base hit this spring, his skipper was more worried about how he looked than how he performed.
"I think that his average (this spring) will be something to be talked about, but for me, it was seeing him come out and play healthy, and seeing him physically able to go back-to-back and not have to force his running," Girardi said.
Jeter, of course, said all spring he "feels good" heading into his final season, and Girardi said Saturday that he won't read too much into what would be considered a "poor" spring for just about anyone else.
"I'm happy with where he's at, and I don't make too much of spring training numbers with veterans," the skipper said. "I've been on both sides of that, some where I had a good spring and didn't get a hit in the month of April and others where I had a bad spring and got a lot of hits in April; as long as he feels good and his timing is there, I don't care too much about numbers."
How much Jeter plays, overall and at shortstop remains to be seen, but the skipper wasn't going to place any numbers, limitations, or expectations on that total.
"I don't really (have a number), I'm open-minded. "I've said it all along, and I'm going to stick to it: he'll be the one who determines how many games he plays at short," Girardi said. "How he's moving, how he's responding, how he feels every day, that's the discussion that we have. It's that sort of thing. I don't want to put a number on it; to me, it's more how he's doing that's going to determine how much he played."
One thing that was a concern was who would "back up" Jeter, newcomers Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts, and fellow injury returnee Mark Teixeira this year - and it was a concern that doubled when Brendan Ryan's back injury forced him to miss most of the spring and eventually landed him on the disabled list.
Girardi chose Dean Anna to "replace" Ryan and be the nominal backup shortstop - saying Anna's left-handed bat helped a lot - and then chose non-roster invitee Yangervis Solarte over Eduardo Nunez for the final roster spot.
The latter was one of the toughest decisions Girardi has ever had to make, he said, but in the end, it came down to production and flexibility, especially if and when Kelly Johnson either has to move back to his natural position of second base or spell Teixeira at first.
There's a good chance I'll go with Solarte (at third when Johnson spells Teixeira)," he said. "I can put Anna there too depending on whether we're facing a lefty or a righty, but Solarte gives you a lot of options because he's a switch hitter. I'm not sure how it would have played out for Solarte if Ryan was here, but we liked what he did."
And as for Nunez, Girardi said that when it comes to the 26-year-old infielder's assignment to Triple-A, "Nuney" can learn a lot from the man chosen to be the backup catcher, Francisco Cervelli - especially in the way Cervelli handled both his late demotion to Triple-A in 2012 and all the pitfalls that cost him most of the 2013 season.
"(I'd tell Nunez) be more consistent at what you do. I think Cervy went through a really difficult time too, and he came back with a vengeance," Girardi said. "I look what he did last year just in that first month, and he was really good in that spring training too, and we pointed out it happens a lot. Boone Logan was up and down a lot, Nova had been up and down…you just have to be more consistent."
Overall, Girardi is happy with all his decisions, the performance of his "question marks," and the general health of his team, and he summed up his feelings in one simple, positive sentence:
"I really liked what I saw from our team (this spring), and I feel good about 2014."