Commentary

Posada to DH? Not if everyone's on DL

With the Bombers' battered backstops, Jorge's catching days may not be over after all

Updated: March 3, 2011, 8:32 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- There are three brand-new gloves lined up in Jorge Posada's locker, and they aren't batting gloves.

The Yankees' new designated hitter hasn't entirely given up the idea of catching, an attitude that might have seemed like an eccentricity, or a problem.

Now, it looks extremely wise and foresighted.

Russell Martin, acquired in the offseason to be the everyday catcher, had knee surgery in December and has yet to catch in a game, although the Yankees say the plan is for him to be behind the plate Friday night against the Red Sox.

[+] EnlargePosada
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallNew DH Jorge Posada still has three catcher's gloves ready to go in his locker. That could turn out to be a very good thing for the Yankees.

And Wednesday, Francisco Cervelli, the front-runner to be Martin's backup, fouled a ball off his left foot and had to leave the game after the third inning. At first, Cervelli said it was just a bruise. The Yankees said a CAT scan had come back negative.

But later, after the Yankees' scrubs had rallied to beat the Astros' scrubs 6-5, with five runs, four unearned, in the bottom of the ninth, Joe Girardi summoned reporters back into his office.

"We've got some more information on Cervy," Girardi said. "The CAT scan was good, but they did an MRI and it was inconclusive. So the doctors want to take another look, and they'll let us know more tomorrow."

And just like that, those three gloves -- all of them catcher's mitts -- in Posada's locker seemed as if they were there for a legitimate reason.

The same way a team can never have too many pitchers, it apparently can never have too many catchers, either. Rookie Jesus Montero is in the running for the backup job, too, and the Yankees have been impressed with the improvement in his defensive skills. He threw out two baserunners in Tuesday's game against the Pirates in Bradenton.

But while his bat is considered ready to assume the responsibilities of a backup DH, thrusting him into the role of major league backup catcher might not be a gamble the Yankees are ready to take. Austin Romine, the other catching prospect in camp, is slightly ahead of Montero as a catcher but is not as good a hitter.

So if Cervelli is out for any extended period of time -- Girardi said he wouldn't catch for at least two days but couldn't predict beyond that -- it might just be that Jorge Posada, catcher-turned-DH, might become Jorge Posada, catcher-turned-DH-turned-backup catcher.

Posada, like all the Yankees' regulars, had long since left the clubhouse by the time the game ended and thus was not available for comment. But it is no secret he has never fully warmed up to the role of DH and has been eager to participate in catching drills. He also has taken an active role in the daily catchers' meetings, sharing his years of experience and knowledge of the Yankees' pitching staff with the newcomers in camp.

Asked whether a return to catching by Posada was a possibility if the injury to Cervelli turned out to be more serious than originally thought, Girardi said, "I really don't know."

But he agreed that it was a good thing Posada brought those gloves with him to camp, each of which sits in his locker wrapped tightly around a baseball. "They're broken in and ready to go," Girardi said.

Last season, Posada suffered a similar injury, fouling a pitch off the instep of his right foot. At first, Posada was thought to have suffered a bruise, but a subsequent MRI revealed a hairline fracture that cost him 15 games.

"That arch can be tricky," Girardi said. "You always worry when a guy hits that arch."

Girardi pointed out that Posada's injury was more to the bottom of his foot, Cervelli's to the inside edge. But until the doctors fully analyze the MRI, he and the Yankees can't be sure how serious the injury is or how long Cervelli will be out.

After Cervelli fouled the ball off his foot, Girardi came out to check on him but allowed him to remain in the game. Cervelli wound up drawing a walk and went out to catch the third inning.

"I kinda noticed it in his throwing in between innings, and then I watched him walk off the field and he limped a little bit," Girardi said. "He wanted to stay in, but I told him, 'No, this is spring training,' because you worry about a guy running funny and them maybe hurting something else."

Cervelli was hobbling noticeably in the clubhouse before leaving for tests but said he didn't think the injury was serious. "It's nothing bad; a couple of days, and that's it," he said. "It's a bruise, that's all."

Cervelli, who muscled up during a two-month training stint with Robinson Cano in the Dominican Republic this offseason, was having a good camp, hitting .600 (3-for-5) in the early going, including a sharply hit RBI double the other day in Lakeland.

But for the second straight spring, he has suffered an injury -- just about a year ago to the day, he got hit in the head with a pitch and suffered a concussion -- that leaves his immediate future in doubt.

"He might need to get on Mo's program," Girardi joked, referring to Mariano Rivera, who traditionally takes it easy in spring training and has yet to throw a pitch in a game.

But if Cervelli's injury costs him serious time, it will be no laughing matter. Martin, who came into the game in the sixth inning as a pinch hitter and wound up drawing the walk-off walk at the end of an incredibly sloppy ninth inning, was fitted before the game for a knee brace, which he will wear for the foreseeable future. He admits he is still not 100 percent but insists that once he catches for the first time Friday, he will be ready to go every day.

"That's the plan," he said.

But as Mike Tyson was fond of saying, everyone has a plan until they get hit. And every team has a plan until its catcher gets hit on the foot or the fingertip or the knee.

Then, suddenly, a position that looked to be as deep as Bartolo Colon's midsection can start looking as thin as Rivera.

"Now's not the time to be a hero, in March," Martin said.

He's right about that. It's also not a good time to be unprepared.

Those three catcher's mitts lined up in Jorge Posada's locker, oiled up and ready to go, might wind up getting some use after all.

NOTES: The ninth inning featured some of the sloppiest play that will be seen all year at any level, from Little League on up. It began with Martin reaching on an error by Astros third baseman Mike Kvasnicka. Another error, a wild pitch, three singles and two walks later, it ended when Martin drew a bases-loaded four-pitch walk to force in the winning run. Of the 11 runs scored in the game, seven were unearned. ... After A.J. Burnett threw two scoreless innings, Sergio Mitre allowed just an infield hit in his one inning of work, and Joba Chamberlain got a double-play ball to escape a first-and-second, one-out jam. Hector Noesi allowed one hit over the final two innings and got the win. ... Derek Jeter, who had hit the ball on the ground in his first seven spring at-bats, lined out hard to center in his eighth at-bat and then lined a single to right-center in the fifth. "Derek hit two line drives, so everyone's not concerned today," Girardi joked. Jeter is hitting .222 (2-for-9) so far this spring. ... Alex Rodriguez, batting a solid .429, lined a double over the head of left fielder J.B. Shuck in the second inning, his third double of the spring. ... Thursday marks the spring training debut of Freddy Garcia, who gets the start against the Rays in Port Charlotte. Game time is 1:05 p.m. ET, and there is no radio or television broadcast.

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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