Yankees Pregame Notebook: The start of a September to remember?

The Yankees enter a crucial homestand just four games out of a playoff spot
09/02/2014 6:14 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Derek Jeter and the Yankees will need a big September to qualify for the playoffs.(AP)
After a Labor Day off, the Yankees kick off the home stretch of their season tonight at Yankee Stadium with the opener of a three-game set against the Red Sox.

Tuesday marks the beginning of their penultimate homestand, a nine-game slate that also includes three each with Kansas City and Tampa Bay, and because of a doubleheader in Baltimore on Sept. 12, it also marks the beginning of a stretch where they play 27 games in 27 days.

All of them are important for a team that is four games out of a wild-card spot with 27 to go, but their skipper wouldn't quite call this a make-or-break stretch just yet.

"I wouldn't call it a do-or-die homestand," manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday, "but it's very important, and we obviously need to win a lot of games on this homestand."

Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the starting lineup tonight, and he's back atop it as well, at least for now; the speedster missed Saturday's game and only pinch-hit on Sunday because of a sprained ankle, and Girardi is leaving it on him to determine if he feels capable of giving it 100 percent every day from here on out.

"I saw him run on Sunday and was encouraged, and he said he felt better yesterday and again today, so that's why I have him in center," Girardi said. "He says he's fine, but he hasn't gone out and done anything - and I told him, if it's an issue out there or he feels he needs to DH a day, he has to let me know."

With Ellsbury at the top, Brett Gardner has been flip-flopped into the No. 3 spot, a move many pundits (professional and otherwise) have opined should have happened multiple times this season. In doing it now, though, Girardi said it's not so much because of their production level overall as it is a function of what has happened lately.

"Gardy's probably been as good against righties as anyone in our lineup, so I left Jake in the one hole," Girardi said. "My concern in switching the guys when they were both going well was that they were going so well, why move them? We put Jake in the leadoff spot when Gardy got hurt, and he did extremely well, so we'll leave him there and hit Gardy third."

Derek Jeter is in between them still, though, and despite the seeming recent abundance of chatter about maybe moving The Captain down in the order, Girardi was steadfast in his response.

"For the first 4 months of the season Derek was one of our most consistent hitters, and I consider us in playoff mode right now because we need to win games," Girardi said. "Throughout his career he's been clutch in the playoffs, and we're leaving him there. He's been a money player his whole career, and we need him to be this last month, but there are other issues with our lineup we need to be better at, too."

That includes the middle of the lineup, which tonight features a trio of hitters in Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann that are all hitting .240 or less this season, and Girardi knows everybody from the top down needs to pick it up for the Yankees to play into October.

"When you have to look up and down the lineup and there's a lot of .230s and .240s, I'm not sure why Derek is the one being picked on," Girardi said. "He had a tough (August), but four or five of our hitters did, too."

So then, the skipper noted, any move for Jeter (or anyone else) would be looked at as more of a procedural than a reward/consequence.

"If I move him, who do I put up there?" he asked. "Prado I move up against lefties because he's killed them this year, but who has been more consistent over the year? We haven't hit collectively as a team, and to single him out is not fair. Being 14h out of 15 in runs scored (in the AL) isn't all Derek's fault; collectively, we haven't hit."

The chance for that to change starts Tuesday, and it's going to take a team effort for the last of their six remaining games against Boston to not be their final game period.

"A number of guys have had tough years that we probably wouldn't have projected, but for us to be successful this month, we're going to need to have a handful of guys get hot. Jeter can hit .600, but if the other guys around him don't produce, it won't matter; it's going to have to be a collection of all these guys swinging the bat well, and if one guy doesn't, the next guy has to pick him up."

A few other notes from the Yankees' expanded clubhouse:

-Rosters expanded Sept. 1 so today is the first chance for the Yankees' September call-ups to appear, and they added eight faces - five pitchers, two outfielders in Chris Young and Antoan Richardson, and a catcher in John Ryan Murphy - that fit the bill of what the team needs according to Girardi: "Obviously pitching is important this time of year; it gives you more options, and we have a doubleheader coming up here. We get speed off the bench in Richardson, Young has been pretty productive in his career against left-handers, and a third catcher (Murphy) is not unusual."

-Girardi on why Murphy, and not Austin Romine (or both), was the addition behind the plate: "The organization made the decision to go with Murph. Obviously I don't get to see either of them play a lot."

-Masahiro Tanaka played catch again today and felt good afterward, and Girardi was pleased with how what could have been a setback has been more of a bump in the road: "He saw Dr. Ahmad, who termed it as just arm fatigue. Every test that they did came out well. He's scheduled to throw a bullpen sometime this week, and hopefully he's ready to do it; we'll just go day by day."

-David Phelps also threw a 25-pitch bullpen session of just fastballs and changeups, and will throw another 35-pitch session with all his pitches on Friday. The next step after that is a simulated game Sunday, and the righty hopes to be back sooner rather than later: "We have to take it one step at a time, go step-by-step and make sure it goes well, but I feel great."

-Last word goes to one of the call-ups, Chris Young, on the rarity of playing with both the Mets and Yankees in the same season: "I don't know how often it's happened that someone has played for both teams in the same year, but I'm excited that it happened period; whether it was the same year or 10 years apart, to say I had the chance to play for both the Mets and Yankees in my career, it's exciting. And, I got to keep my same place in New York, so it worked out well!"

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