Tagged: Rickey Henderson

Tanaka Wins 10th Game By Fanning 11 Mariners

GAME 64

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 2

In the 1979 Blake Edwards classic comedy “10” a songwriter (Dudley Moore) goes through a mid-life crisis and becomes enamored with a sexy blonde (Bo Derek) on her honeymoon. The number 10 refers to the absolute perfection of the woman’s looks.

However, in 2014, the New York Yankees have fallen in love with their ace right-hander from Japan. On Wednesday, Masahiro Tanaka not only proved he was a “10” as pitchers go. He also won his 10th game.

Tanaka threw eight shutout innings before giving up two runs in the ninth in pitching his second complete game with 11 strikeouts as New York defeated Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 28,434 at Safeco Field.

Tanaka (10-1) retired the first 10 batters he faced before James Jones singled with one out in the fourth. Two batters later Kyle Seager singled as well. But Tanaka ended the inning by striking out Logan Morrison swinging.

That strikeout began a stretch in which Tanaka struck out six of the next seven batters he faced.

Other than a walk to Seager in the seventh, Tanaka did not allow another base-runner until Mike Zunino doubled to left with one out in the eighth and Brad Miller followed a single. However, Tanaka quashed that Mariners threat by retiring Cole Gillispie on a soft liner to second baseman Brian Roberts, who threw to first to double off Miller.

The Mariners scored in the ninth when Jones reached on an infield single with one out and former Yankee Robin$son Cano hit his first home run at Safeco Field, a lined shot that scraped off the top of the wall in left-center.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had no trouble solving 35-year-old right-hander Chris Young (5-4).

Roberts opened the third inning with a opposite-field single to left. Brett Gardner drew a walk and, one out later, Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a looping single into center that plated Roberts.

The Yankees added to their 1-0 lead in the fourth when Gardner led off with a lined single to right and Ellsbury slapped an opposite-field single to left.

Mark Teixeira then launched his 11th home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center. It was Teixeira’s 17th home run at Safeco Field, which ties Rafael Palmeiro for the most home runs hit by an opponent.

Young was charged with four runs on seven hits and two walks with a pair of strikeouts in five innings. It was his first defeat ever at Safeco Field covering 10 starts.

But Tanaka was, as always, the story the night.

He now has thrown quality starts in all of 13 of his appearances this season. He also became only the fourth pitcher in history to strike out more than 100 batters (103) in his first 13 major-league starts, joining Kerry Wood, Herb Score, Jose DeLeon and fellow countryman Hideo Nomo.

Tanaka also kept his major-league-leading ERA at 2.02.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 33-31 and they remain tied with the Baltimore Orioles for second place in the American League East. They both trail the first-place Toronto Blue Jays by 4 1/2 games and just three games in the loss column.

The Mariners fell to 34-31.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s dominance almost was predictable because the Mariners are one of the worst hitting teams in the American League and they lack power. Tanaka threw 75 of his 110 pitches for strikes for 68 percent. Tanaka’s 11 strikeouts tied his season high on April 27 when he fanned the same number against the Los Angeles Angels in 6 1/3 innings at Yankee Stadium. Not only is Tanaka in the Cy Young discussion. Because in winning 10 of the Yankees’ 33 games, he also is in the Most Valuable Player hunt also.
  • Derek Jeter is getting back on a bit of a roll. He was 2-for-5 in the game with two stolen bases and he is now 5-for-9 (.556) in his first two games in Seattle. Jeter’s stolen bases also were Nos. 350 and 351 in his career. He becomes only the third player in the major-league history with 3,000 or more hits, 350 or more stolen bases and 250 or more home runs, joining Craig Biggio and Rickey Henderson.
  • Ellsbury was 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI in the game. His 15-game hitting streak is the longest active streak in the majors and is the longest for a Yankee since Jeter’s 19-game streak in September 2012. During that span, Ellsbury is 23-for-60 (.383). Despite the return of Carlos Beltran to the lineup, manager Joe Girardi has kept Ellsbury in the third spot in the order and it is paying off.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

So Tanaka lost the shutout thanks to the sellout Cano and his homer. The Yankees were in command once they took the lead and Tanaka is earning every penny of that $178 million contract he signed. Despite all the injuries to the starting staff, the Yankees are hanging in behind the Blue Jays. No complaints here.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees made two moves on Wednesday to strengthen their bullpen. They activated right-hander Shawn Kelley from the 15-day disabled list and they acquired left-hander David Huff from the San Francisco Giants. Kelley, 30, has been out since May 6 with a lumbar spine strain. He is 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 16 appearances this season. Huff, 29, was with the Yankees last season and he was picked up for cash considerations. He was 1-0 with a 6.30 ERA in 16 appearances with the Giants this season. Last season, Huff was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA in 11 games (two starts) with the Yankees. Huff will assume the long-relief duties in the bullpen. To make room for Kelley, the team optioned right-hander Matt Daley to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. To make room for Huff, the Yankees designated for assignment left-hander Wade LeBlanc. Daley, 33, had no record with a 4.85 ERA in 12 games. LeBlanc, 29, who was claimed off waivers from the Angels on June 3, also had no record with an ERA of 18.00 in one appearance.  . . .  Beltran made 25 tosses of about 90 feet before the game on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right elbow. Beltran missed 21 games with a bone spur and has been limited to designated hitter since he was activated on June 5. Beltran hopes to be able to play the outfield later in the season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the Mariners at home on Thursday in the series finale.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 2.42 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Whitley held the Kansas City Royals to two runs on five hits and no walks while he struck out three in seven innings on Friday to earn his first major-league victory.

The Mariners will start rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (5-4, 3.64 ERA). Elias yielded four runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. He bested the Yankees on May 1 at Yankee Stadium 4-2 with 10 strikeouts.

Game-time will be 10:10 EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

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Gardner Tries To Elbow Way Back To Healthy 2013

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

LEFTFIELD – BRETT GARDNER (7 Rs, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs, .323 BA, 2 SB)

Luck has always seemed to turn its back on Brett Gardner.

When he won a job in the Yankees’ outfield in 2009, he seemed to add a new dimension to the offense with his speed. But that season was cut short (108 games) due to a severe thumb injury he suffered sliding into base on a steal attempt.

He has always shown great promise to produce a season in which he would could hit close to .300, steal 60 bases and score tons of runs hitting in front of the Yankees’ powerful home run hitters.

He hit .277 in 2010 and stole 47 bases but he regressed a bit in 2011, when he hit .259 and stole 49 bases. A wrist injury contributed a lot to his hitting woes but surgery on the wrist appeared to have him primed for a big season in 2012.

He was hitting .321 in the 11th game of the season when he hustled in for a sinking line drive in a game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on April 17. Gardner dove for the ball and caught it but paid dearly by suffering a right elbow injury that landed him on the disabled list. In that game, Gardner hit two doubles, drew two walks, scored three runs, stole a base and drove in a run.

Unfortunately, Gardner would have only three more at-bats the rest of the season and they would come in the Yankees’ final series of the season against the Boston Red Sox.

In between, Gardner would have to suffer a series of stops and starts in his rehab that would baffle the Yankees’ medical staff and elbow specialists alike.

Gardner would rehab the elbow and then show enough progress for a minor-league rehab assignment. However, on two occasions last season Gardner had to shelve his rehab because of recurring pain in the elbow. Finally, Gardner underwent surgery, which ostensibly ended his season.

But the Yankees did see an opportunity to get Gardner ready to play in the playoffs as a potential pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield. Gardner entered two games in the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles as a defensive replacement and he was 0-for-8 with two stolen bases in three games in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

But, when you add it all up, basically Gardner 2012 season was just wasted.

Gardner, 29, enters 2013 with a clean bill of health on his surgically repaired elbow. That was pretty much confirmed when Gardner was allowed to hit late in the season and in the playoffs. Hopefully he will be able to return to the same durable player who played in 159 games in 2011.

The Yankees hope so because with Gardner hurt and Eduardo Nunez sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees running game in 2012 was virtually non-existent until the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in June.

Gardner and Nunez had combined to steal 71 bases in 2011. Last season, in limited play, they stole only 13. The team leader was Suzuki with 14 despite the fact he played in just 67 games with the Yankees.

There is no doubt Gardner and 137 career steals were really missed by a Yankees’ team that had trouble scoring runs in every way except by hitting homers. Gardner provided the speed the Yankees needed and the base-running ability to make other teams make mistakes on pickoff attempts and throws.

The Yankees will have an opportunity to field a roster in 2013 that includes, Gardner, Nunez and Suzuki. They also could possibly get double-digit steals from Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson.

So the Yankees, minus power threats such as Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Andruw, Jones, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez and with Alex Rodriguez out until at least June with a hip injury may have to remake their attack next season around stealing and taking extra bases to make up for the what they lack in power.

That may not be a bad thing considering the “waiting for the home run” approach did not work out so well once the playoffs began. Manager Joe Girardi has always favored a National League-style attack of getting runners on base and moving them aggressively around the bases.

But last season Gardner’s injury and Nunez’s demotion altered the attack to a power-only approach with a veteran-laden roster of players who were not fleet afoot.

Ibanez and Jones pretty much took over for Gardner in left field. Ibanez, 40, and Jones, 34, combined to hit 33 home runs and drive in 96 runs but they only combined to steal three bases and all of those were from the older Ibanez.

Neither Ibanez or Jones could match Gardner’s range and fielding prowess, despite the fact Jones won 10 Gold Gloves when he was a young star with the Atlanta Braves. This is where Gardner was truly missed.

There are scouts who believe that Gardner should have won a Gold Glove in 2011. It instead was awarded to Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals. Gardner has superior range, better instincts and a better arm than Gordon.

He had seven assists and he deterred a lot of base-runners rounding third for heading for home because he threw out 12 runners in his first season in 2009.

In fact, Gardner is so well thought of as a defensive outfielder that the Yankees are toying with the idea of moving him to centerfield this season and moving Granderson to left. Though Granderson does have excellent speed and he plays hard, the Yankees are not happy about how he tends to get late jumps and misreads fly balls.

Girardi is low-keying this idea but do not be surprised to see Gardner playing center this spring on the days Granderson is not. It also would not surprise me if Granderson plays some in left under the guise that the team “wants to see” rookie Melky Mesa in center.

Then Girardi likely will make an announcement late in the spring that Gardner and Granderson will switch. He would do this in order to make sure Granderson’s feelings aren’t damaged and he can probably justify it by saying leftfield is just as important to cover than center in Yankee Stadium, which is true.

Though speed and defense are constants in Gardner’s game, he still has some warts, too.

His bat can be erratic. Pitchers love to overpower him with hard stuff up and try to tie him up inside because of his past wrist issues. So instead of hitting line drives, Gardner hits weak pops and grounders.

Gardner also, for all his blinding speed, has never really developed into a very good bunter.

Gardner’s bunting is still a work in progress, which is hard to believe for a player who has played a combined seven major- and minor-league seasons. Juan Pierre practices bunting every day and he is the most accomplished bunter in the major leagues. If Gardner is not doing it than why not? And if he is practicing every day why is he not getting better?

Those are fair questions.

The other maddening part of Gardner’s game is that he does not have an aggressive nature on the bases. Gardner loves to wait for the right pitch and the right jump before taking a base. It sometimes rankles the hitters who are up when he is on because he just waits and wait and waits.

It is admirable that Gardner does not want to get thrown out but base-stealers have to have a riverboat gambler approach to it or they lose the intimidation factor on the bases. Rickey Henderson had the attitude that no one could throw him out. If you did manage to get him, he would dare you to do it again.

Gardner is much more passive and it shows. The Yankees will need him to develop that attitude and perhaps Suzuki could be of some help to him with it.

Even with these weaknesses in his game, Gardner is still going to be very important to the Yankees in 2013. Having him healthy will give the Yankees a genuine 50-plus base-stealing threat and a superb defensive outfielder roaming the vast expanses of Yankee Stadium.

After suffering through a frustrating year with that nagging elbow injury, Gardner seems primed for a big season. For Yankee fans often it is when you are sorely missed that fans take a better appreciation for what you do. My guess is they are going to really appreciate what Gardner gives them this season – if he can just stay healthy.

NEXT: CENTERFIELD

 

Cano’s Contract Push May Lead To Breakout Year

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

 SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (33 HRs, 99 RBIs, .313 BA)

I remember very well a day before a spring training game in 2005 seeing this tall, thin Yankee rookie swatting line drives all over the field in batting practice. The swing was smooth and effortless while the ball jumped off his bat.

I asked someone about this kid Robinson Cano and what I heard back impressed me. “Cano is just a colt now. But very soon he will be a thoroughbred,” he said.

Eight years later his words ring true. Cano has grown up before our very eyes and now he is the best player in pinstripes. He is no longer a boy among men. He is the man the team revolves around.

Sadly, this very well could be Cano’s last season with the Yankees. The team is under a strict edict from owner Hal Steinbrenner to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and Cano can become a free agent after this season.

After a season in which he set a career high in home runs and hit above .300 for the seventh time in his nine major-league seasons and won his second Gold Glove and fourth Silver Slugger awards it is a pretty sure bet that Cano would command a lot of money on the open market. Add the fact his agent is Scott Boras and you can, pardon the pun, bank on it.

The Yankees are going to have to be mighty creative to find the dollars to keep Cano, 30. But they likely will make every attempt to open the vault wide enough to keep their best player. It would be a good thing, too.

With Alex Rodriguez saddled with a string of injuries the real foundation of the team’s growth is Cano. Second basemen who can hit home runs, drive in runs and hit above .300 are not exactly plentiful. Cano is simply the best second baseman in baseball and there is no one in the Yankee organization, let alone any organization, that can really replace him.

So you would think it would be wise for Yankee fans during spring training to watch Cano carefully because it could be the last time they see him. One problem with that: Cano is committed to play his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

So the Yankees likely will not get Cano back until the latter stages of March.

Cano’s 2012 season was marked by some milestones. But it was hardly the banner season the Yankees expected from him.

Cano struggled in two major areas: (1) In the first half of the season Cano was woefully inept at driving in runners in scoring position. That is why he failed to drive in more than 100 runs. (2) He suddenly ran into trouble hitting left-handers. He hit just .239 against them while he pounded right-handers at a .357 clip.

Cano actually rescued his season with an incredible stretch of games in late September. After Sept. 1, Cano hit six home runs and drove in 24 runs while batting .348. The Yankees would appreciate more consistency from Cano and they hope he can return to bashing left-hand pitching as he did in throughout his career up until last season.

Given that this is Cano’s contract season and given his past track record, this could be the breakout season everyone has been predicting for him. With a bit more discipline at the plate Cano could very well win a batting title, hit 30-plus home runs and drive in more than 120 runs.

Cano’s big failing at the plate has been a product of his immense talent. Cano can simply put a swing on any pitch in or out of the strike zone. So pitchers lure him with a lot of breaking pitches out of the strike zone and then pound him with hard stuff inside to tie up his swing.

Cano obliges them by swinging at less than optimum pitches and he gets himself out. If Cano ever lays off pitches out of the strike zone consistently throughout a season he might very well hit .340. He is just that good.

Over the years, Cano has been saddled with the tag “lazy.”

That is a product of his nonchalant style of play. But last season there were times that Cano made outs on the bases he should not have made. Here is something that might surprise you: Cano is simply a terrible base-runner and he always has been.

Some players have good instincts on the bases like Derek Jeter and some players like Cano don’t. Cano never was called upon to bunt or steal bases throughout his minor-league career because he was such a productive hitter. It has just carried over to the major leagues.

He is not a fast runner and he just never worked on base-running much because he never had to really worry about it. Last season it was obvious.

Cano attempted five steals last season and was succcessful three times. In his career he has stolen 31 bases but he been thrown out 27. Rickey Henderson he is not!

But Cano was able to score 105 runs, the fourth season in a row he has topped the century mark in runs scored. So as long as the Yankees do not have him running wild on the bases, Cano’ s weakness will not hurt the team.

The “lazy” tag also has had a serious effect on how Cano’s fielding has been judged. Early in his career, Cano did make careless errors by trying to look cool fielding routine grounders. Since then he has grown into an exceptional fielder who should have won the last six Gold Gloves instead of just two.

Cano simply has more range than second baseman in baseball. That applies to ground balls and pop flies. No one can range as far into the outfield to catch pops and few can master the play to his right on grounders better than Cano.

His arm is exceptionally great for a second baseman and Cano does not credit for being accurate with it also. Roberto Alomar may have set the standard for fielding during his career but Cano is shattering that standard and setting one of his own.

The other thing that sets Cano apart is his turn of the double play. In the last six seasons, Cano has turned no less than 92 double plays and no one can turn and flip to first better than he can. In doing all that work in the field last season, Cano committed only six errors. Wow!

That 2012 Gold Glove award was well deserved.

Another Cano attribute throughout his career is his durability despite playing a middle infield spot. In his last six seasons, Cano has never played less than 159 games. He played in 161 games last season.

When you add it all up you get one very exceptional player and one who is destined to be a very rich one come the 2014 season.

Behind Cano last season was Jayson Nix, not that he was needed much.

Nix, 30, made only five starts at second and he did not commit an error there. Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees after being recalled on May 8 to replace Eduardo Nunez as the Yankees’ backup middle infielder.

Nix obviously will never match Cano with his bat or his glove. The Yankees just ask him to play his solid, nonflashy game and not make mistakes. Nix does that very well and he will get a chance to do it again in 2013.

Though he was designated for assignment on Nov. 30 after reliever Mariano Rivera was re-signed, Nix accepted assignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he will compete with Nunez for the backup middle infield spot this spring.

Nunez, 25, won the backup infielder job over the recently released Ramiro Pena in 2011 but promptly lost early in 2012 season when he began treating ground balls like hand grenades. Nunez made so many sloppy fielding errors that he was dispatched to Scranton to work on exclusively playing shortstop.

He enters camp in 2013 with some very positive things in his favor. Nunez can hit (his career batting average is .272) and he can run (38 steals in 46 career attempts). The right-hand hitter also could be valuable as a replacement to Andruw Jones as a platoon designated hitter.

But Nunez likely will get most of his work in spring training at shortstop replacing Jeter, who is in the process of rehabbing after surgery on a fractured left ankle he suffered in the first game of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Jeter’s rehab is expected to run through part of the exhibition schedule and it is unclear if he will be ready to start for the Yankees on Opening Day. So Nunez will be of more value at shortstop, which is his natural position.

Nunez did make one start at second base last season and characteristically he committed an error there. It is good thing Cano is durable.

The Yankees will have a chance in Cano’s absence this spring to look at a pair of young second basemen who are on the 40-man roster, David Adams and Corban Joseph.

Adams, 25, hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs in 86 games at Double-A Trenton. He has carried that into the Arizona Fall League, where he is hitting .286 with three home runs and 15 RBIs and was named Player of the Week in the fifth week of the season.

Adams, a third-round pick of the Yankees in 2008 out of the University of Virginia, has been hobbled most of his minor-league career with a serious ankle injury. But he is healthy now and he is hoping to regain his prospect status.

Joseph, 24, hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 131 games at Trenton and Scranton.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Franklin (TN) High School, Joseph has more power than Adams and he has the advantage of passing Adams to Scranton while being a year younger.

Neither player looks to be threats to Cano at all, obviously. But they will get a chance to develop just in case Cano departs in 2014.

Further down the line the Yankees have Jose Pirela, 23, and Angelo Gumbs, 20.

Pirela hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Trenton. The Venezuela native is being looked upon as a potential middle infield backup utility infielder with a good line-drive bat but he lacks speed.

Gumbs, the team’s No. 8 prospect, was signed as a shortstop but has played second base in his two years in the minors. He hit .272 with seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 26 stolen bases at Class-A Charleston (SC) in the South Atlantic League. An elbow injury ended his season in June.

Gumbs plays an aggressive style and shows that he has a good bat, which makes him a young player worth watching in 2013.

But Gumbs is a long way away from making the majors and Cano simply is the industry standard at his position. It also looks like he will be that standard for some years to come.

There is no doubt Cano will be motivated to produce in 2013 and he could have that monster season for which everybody has been waiting. The Yankees will need that from him in a season that appears the team will be lacking some power and a team that will be minus Rodriguez for much of the season.

The Yankees simply will go as far as Cano can possibly carry them this season.

NEXT: First Base

 

Gardner’s 1st Half OK But Needs More Slash, Dash

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

LEFT-FIELD  – BRETT GARDNER (.267 BA, 4 HRS, 18 RBIs)

As Aprils go, Brett Gardner’s was so bad he was on the verge of being platooned. In addition, Gardner was getting thrown out on the bases like he was a 35-year-old coming off knee surgery.

In order for Brett Gardner to be Brett Gardner he had to get on base and steal them in bunches. In April, he was doing neither.

But after hitting .194 through April and getting caught stealing three times and stealing just four bases, Gardner finally found his groove in May. He hit .301 in May and an even hotter .317 in June. The two hot months pushed his season batting average to .274 at the start of July.

He also reached the halfway point with 23 steals and 10 caught stealing, which means he was stealing bags at a much better percentage.

One thing is painfully obvious about the 27-year-old outfielder. The fact that Gardner is blessed with blazing speed is tempered a bit with the realization that Gardner’s abilities to use them are still a work in progress.

Gardner is not a “gap hitter” who can power balls in the alleys for easy doubles and triples. He also is not an accomplished bunter who can put pressure on a defense by either threatening the bunt or slapping it past a drawn-in infielder. He also, if you can believe this, is not a skilled reader of pitchers’ pickoff moves and moves to the plate.

That is why you see Gardner struggling to get good wood on hard stuff. That is why you see Gardner hit weak grounders and popups. That is why you see Gardner foul or popup bunts. Finally, that is why you see Gardner get picked off by pitchers and thrown out easily by some catchers.

The instincts are not there and the learning process has been slow.

But Gardner remains important to the Yankees because not every game can be won via a three-run home run or bases-loaded doubles. There are games in which when the offense is hard to come by, Gardner can get on, steal and score on a groundout or sacrifice fly. That is why Gardner is so important and why the Yankees have been so patient with his progress.

Gardner is manager Joe Girardi’s stamp on the Yankees. All of the other Yankee starters won their positions before Girardi became manager or were acquired through signings or trades by Brian Cashman, But Gardner came up through the Yankee minor-league system and replaced the lineage of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon and forced the trade of Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson. Gardner was the last outfielder standing and he has been a favorite of Girardi ever since.

He won the left-field job in 2010 and did well until a wrist injury short-circuited his season. He hit .270 and he stole 47 bases in 56 attempts last season. But the wrist injury cost him a little over a month of season and limited his ability to drive the ball. Off-season wrist surgery was expected to help Gardner get some punch back in his swing.

He does seem to have some of it back but Gardner is largely a punch and slap hitter at this stage. He does have four home runs but there is doubt he will ever consistently hit double digits in home runs, short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium or not. So Gardner’s game is to get on base. His on-base percentage is .349, which is good but is below his .383 mark of last season.

One reason is that pitchers try to overpower Gardner with hard stuff up in the strike zone. He struck out 101 times last season and he is on a similar pace this season. Teams have also moved their infielders in to cut down on the time they need to get Gardner at first. Gardner has not adjusted by hitting the ball hard enough to get it past them.

So before we see what Gardner will truly become as offensive force, we need to see more line drives and hard-hit balls through the infield. We also need to see better bunting. We also need to see better instincts on the bases. That is the one area that vexes most Yankee fans.

Gardner is on first and he needs to get into scoring position. But he waits, he waits and he waits some more. Then he is part of a double play or, when he does go, he gets thrown out and Yankee fans just scratch their heads wondering what is wrong this guy.

Rickey Henderson was the greatest base stealer of all time. But you would be surprised to know he was never considered the fastest runner in baseball. He was maybe among the top 10. But the true skill Henderson had was his ability to read pitchers and the attitude he was not going to get thrown out. He got into pitcher’s heads and frustrated them. Gardner has not reached that level of attitude and skill. When and if he does, the Yankees will have something because Gardner still can disrupt games with his feet and his ability to turn doubles into triples and singles into doubles.

Oddly enough, Gardner’s best work is the most overlooked part of his game. Gardner has become the best fielding outfielder the Yankees have and his defense in the first half was very, very close to Gold Glove quality defense. He has committed only one error and he has three outfield assists.

Teams have now decided not to chance scoring runners from second on balls hit directly at him because he is so quick to release the ball and his so accurate with his throws.

Gardner is also able to cover lots of ground in left-field and catch balls other outfielders would be fielding off the wall. The Yankees also decided to play the outfielders more shallow this season, trusting that Gardner and Curtis Granderson were fast enough to cover balls hit over their head.

In Gardner’s case, it has worked perfectly. Gardner has been able to cover weak pops and sinking liners in front of him and liners and fly balls over his head with equal skill.

The other good thing about Gardner, is that he is equally able to play center-field and that flexibility is very important with a veteran team like the Yankees. Gardner’s ability to play good defense is a far cry from the days of Matsui and Damon, where teams took liberties running on them and a lot of balls that could have been caught dropped. Gardner has certainly stopped that.

Looking towards the second half, Gardner must try to pull his average up, get on base a bit more and improve on his bunting and running the bases. If he can do that, stay healthy and continue to play great defense the Yankees will have something special. Because Gardner is a work in progress, a little patience with him is required to be fair.

I will give Gardner a C+ for his first half. The slow start, the caught stealing stats and somewhat erratic bunting have all taken his grade down some. But he has something to prove in the second half and there is no doubt the tools are there. Gardner just needs to put it all together to become a complete player.

OTHERS

I will deal with the other outfielders and prospects for the Yankees when I publish my assessment of Nick Swisher in right-field.

FIRST HALF GRADE

Gardner C+

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C+