Commentary

Posada's struggles could spell change

Yankees' 39-year-old DH looked lost, hesitant and -- dare we say -- old against Boston

Updated: April 11, 2011, 10:30 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- On April 3, in the third game of the 2011 season, Jorge Posada hit a pair of two-run homers against the Detroit Tigers.

The next day, he hit another one against the Minnesota Twins to give him three home runs and six RBIs in the first four games of the new season.

It seemed that Posada's concerns about shifting from catcher to DH were unfounded, and that the Yankees had discovered an ideal spot for their 39-year-old former catcher.

But since that day, in fact since that first inning at-bat, Jorge Posada has not had a base hit. Since that blast that provided the margin of victory in the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Twins, Posada is 0-for-17, striking out eight times. More alarmingly, five of those strikeouts have come with the bat on his shoulder. And only twice in that stretch has he even managed to hit the ball in the air.

[+] EnlargeJorge Posada
Elsa/Getty ImagesJorge Posada, whose average dipped to .138 on Sunday, hasn't recorded a hit in his last 17 at-bats.

Sunday night, against a vintage Josh Beckett, Posada struck out three times in three at-bats. Worse, he looked lost, hesitant and, you hesitate to say it, old.

"You can't make too much of a few at-bats, you just can't do it," Joe Girardi said after the Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday night at Fenway Park, in the rubber game of a three-game series. "Just four or five days ago, people were ready to call him a great DH. That's the nature of this game early on in the year because two or three bad days gets you under .200. Two or three good days gets you way above .300."

The manager is right, of course. Numbers change in a hurry this time of the year and a slump right out of the box is magnified entirely out of proportion. You don't write off a Hall of Fame career like Posada's because of four bad games. But at the same time, you can't minimize the effect one (temporarily) dead bat has in dragging down a lineup.

Sunday night, the story was as much Josh Beckett as the failure of the Yankee hitters, who managed just two hits against a pitcher who, for one night at least, appeared to have turned the clock back to Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

Nobody on the Yankees hit much at all, and on this night in this park, where on most nights a five-run leads appears shaky, the 1-0 lead the Red Sox took in the third inning off CC Sabathia looked positively insurmountable.

"He was probably as good today as we've seen him in quite some time," said Derek Jeter, also hitless in four at-bats. "He was throwing 94-95 and I don't think he threw anything straight. He didn't give us too many opportunities. He was just better than us today."

True again. Beckett had everyone's number on Sunday.

But what about Friday night, when Posada went 0-for-4 and grounded out weakly three times, twice against John Lackey, who allowed six runs that night and a pitcher Posada has always hit well (.333) throughout his career? He had decent numbers against Beckett, too (.282, a home run and four RBIs), and Francisco Liriano (.333), who caught him looking twice on another three-strikeout night last Thursday.

"Right now, I'm just not feeling comfortable at the plate," Posada said. "I'm just a little bit off, like I'm being caught in between pitches. Thinking a little bit too much, probably."

And as much as he denies it, Posada's struggles have got to be creating some discomfort for the manager, as well. Because putting some heat on both of them is Eric Chavez, who had one of the Yankees two hits off Beckett -- Robby Cano had the other -- and is hitting .444 in extremely limited duty so far this season.

But coupled with his excellent spring and the fact the baseball appears to be jumping off his bat the way it did during his heyday in Oakland, it is possible that at some point Joe Girardi is going to have a very tough decision to make.

Already, you can tell Girardi hates to hear the question because he knows sooner or later, he is going to have to deal with it. "You can get caught up in trying to play the hot hand sometimes," he said in answer to the question of why Chavez, who had three hits, including two doubles off the Green Monster, on Saturday, wasn't in Sunday's original starting lineup. "He had a good day yesterday and I'm extremely proud. He hadn't played in a while. But I've said all along that our plan is for Jorgie to be our DH. We gave him a day off and got him back in there."

Alex Rodriguez wound up taking a sick day just before game time, allowing Girardi to slide Chavez in at third base. But obviously, he knows where a better fit in his lineup exists for Chavez. But for now, the spot is spoken for by Posada.

How much longer is the question. After the game, Posada said he has overcome whatever misgivings he had had about moving from behind the plate to the bench for all but four at-bats a night. But he also acknowledged that his swing is out of sorts, and perhaps his confidence, too.

"I'm trying to find something positive," he said. "And right now, nothing is positive."

Girardi seems to sense that Posada, no doubt already stung at having been moved from catcher -- and apparently not even considered as the backup to Russell Martin when Francisco Cervelli got hurt and Jesus Montero and Austin Romine bombed out -- will not be receptive to giving up some DH at-bats to Chavez.

"Not only do you have to manage a game in what I do, you have to manage people too," he said. "You have to manage their thought process, and what they're thinking as players, and whether they're feeling good about themselves. You always have to manage that. And a lot of times, that's more than managing an in-game situation. And yes, I do have to think about that."

But sooner or later, numbers have to trump feelings, and results have to take precedence over emotions. Jorge Posada has been a great, if often easily overlooked, part of this Yankees' dynasty.

But for the past week, he has not been a productive part of the Yankee' offense. "I believe Jorge's going to turn this around," manager Joe Girardi said, and Posada's history tells you he is probably right.

Posada's age and numbers, however, tell a different story so far. One of these days, Joe Girardi is going to have to determine which one is telling the truth. And then, he's going to have to make a very tough call.

•••

For the second straight start, Sabathia pitched well enough to win, only to be done in by another pitcher. Last time, it was teammate Rafael Soriano. Sunday night, 5 2/3 innings of one run ball, although he allowed nine hits and worked in trouble in every single inning, wasn't nearly enough to beat Beckett. Sabathia's ERA is 1.45 but his record is 0-1. ... The Yankees are off Monday but begin a three-game series at home against the Orioles on Tuesday night. A.J. Burnett (2-0, 4.09) goes first, followed by Phil Hughes on Wednesday and Ivan Nova on Thursday.

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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