Commentary

Yanks need Jorge -- if he's up to it

Bombers could do with less Cervelli and Berkman, and a whole lot more of Posada

Updated: August 7, 2010, 2:29 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The less Jorge Posada plays, the more likely the Yankees are to run into trouble down the stretch.

Judging by what was said -- and what was not said -- before and after Friday night's 6-3 Yankees loss to the Red Sox, Posada is probably going to play a lot less than he would prefer, and certainly a lot less than his team needs him to.

Simply put, the Yankees are a much weaker team when Posada is not available, as was the case Friday night. Joe Girardi's lineup card included Francisco Cervelli at catcher and Lance Berkman as the designated hitter, and before the game the manager explained it away as simply a case of not wanting to overwork his 38-year-old catcher, who had caught three of the team's previous five games.

After the game, in which Cervelli dropped a pop fly that led to three unearned runs and Berkman took an 0-for-4 to run his Yankees average to .105 (2-for-19, both singles), Girardi expanded on his reasoning in a somewhat disturbing fashion.

"You know, I still have concerns about what we went through last week in Cleveland,'' Girardi said, referring to the three games Posada missed due to pain from a Baker cyst behind his left knee. "His knee was bothering him and he couldn't play, and that is a concern for us. We were catching him, DH-ing him, catching him, DH-ing him, and I'm not sure if that was the cause, but red flags go up.''

Asked if that was the reason Posada was out of the lineup Friday night, Girardi said, "No, it's not bothering him right now.''

As for Posada, he wasn't saying anything, either before or after the game. He was nowhere to be found in the pregame clubhouse and despite being used as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning (he grounded out for Cervelli) had vanished from the postgame clubhouse before reporters were allowed inside.

Maybe his knee wasn't bothering him, but it certainly would appear something was.

In any event, Girardi's ability to manage -- whether he will publicly admit it or not -- is severely handicapped by his inability to use Posada more than three times out of every five games, a practice he said would continue for the rest of the season.

And with the addition of Berkman, whose one start at first base over the weekend reminded you that his responsibilities here will be strictly limited to the DH role, Posada's playing time will be further reduced.

That leaves the Yankees relying heavily on Cervelli, an energetic player and an earnest lad who, the more he plays, reminds you of why he is a backup.

He started out on fire this season -- he was hitting .415 on May 12 -- but as his playing time has increased, his production has steadily plummeted, the average down to .255, the on-base percentage down to .328 from a high of .483, the slugging percentage an anemic .317. In addition, he has no power -- no homers and only 10 extra-base hits all season.

There aren't many catchers in baseball history who can match Posada at the plate, but the drop from him to Cervelli is like going from Mike Tyson to Pee-wee Herman.

Cervelli manfully took the blame for his failure to catch the pop fly -- "I just dropped it, that's it. I'm supposed to catch that ball" -- but you just can't imagine that happening with Posada on the field.

But even excusing what happened between Cervelli and Vazquez in the third inning -- neither man took charge of the situation, and what should have been the second out of the inning set up a game-losing debacle -- the one saving grace, the belief that Cervelli was a better defensive catcher than Posada, has been exposed as a misconception for the most part.

Yes, he is more energetic behind the plate, more willing to throw behind runners at first and second, and more outwardly engaging with the pitching staff, but the numbers say that the two are pretty much a dead heat.

The truth is, neither one of them is Johnny Bench behind the plate. Both have thrown out a puny 14 percent of potential base-stealers (Cervelli 6-of-37, Posada 7-of-43). Cervelli has two passed balls, Posada four. But at least when Posada is in the lineup, there is one more power bat, and a switch-hitting power bat at that, in the Yankees' lineup.

Posada's absence Friday night was all the more curious considering he, and his teammates, had enjoyed a day off on Thursday, and Posada pretty much had another day off on Tuesday, when he pinch hit for Cervelli in the eighth inning and caught the top of the ninth in the Yankees' 8-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

Resting a catcher of any age is essential, and especially important when the catcher is 38 years old and has had an injury-plagued season already. But three days off in one week seems a bit excessive.

Unless, of course, the catcher is banged up worse than he or his manager is willing to admit.

Girardi is a cautious manager who often rests guys when they don't think they need a rest. Posada is a proud, stubborn player who wouldn't ask out of the lineup if he lost a limb.

For some reason the manager held him out Friday night, and for some reason Posada was conveniently, and conspicuously, unavailable to talk about it.

Only they know what is really going on with Posada, but the rest of us can see what goes on without Posada.

The Red Sox drew within five games of the lead Friday night, and by Monday afternoon, the AL East could well be a three-team race again.

In that kind of a race, the Yankees could do with a lot less of Cervelli and Berkman, and a whole lot more of Jorge Posada.

GAME NOTES: Mark Teixeira extended his team lead in home runs to 24 with a first-inning, two-run blast off Clay Buchholz, the fourth straight game in which the Yankees have hit a two-run bomb in the first inning. The Yankees have lost three of those four games. ... Javier Vazquez (9-8) lost for the first time since June 30 in Seattle, personally allowing the most runs since April 9 at Tampa Bay. ... Derek Jeter's leadoff single in the first tied him with Babe Ruth for 39th place on baseball's all-time hit list with 2,873. ... Robinson Cano went 3-for-4. ... The announced crowd of 49,555 was the largest of the year at Yankee Stadium. ... Saturday's pitching matchup: LHP CC Sabathia (13-5, 3.19) versus RHP John Lackey (10-6, 4.48), first pitch scheduled for 4:10 p.m.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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