Commentary

Jones' play could spell doom for Posada

Andruw was key in Yanks' win, which could mean fewer future opportunities for Jorge

Updated: May 29, 2011, 11:57 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

SEATTLE -- Before Sunday afternoon's game against the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi pretty much said, without actually saying so, that Jorge Posada had probably swung at his last pitch from a left-hander for the forseeable future.

A couple of hours later, Andruw Jones went out and demonstrated why.

Playing left field in place of Brett Gardner, another Yankee that Girardi is reluctant to use against lefties, Jones delivered the key hit, a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double off Seattle starter Jason Vargas -- the big blow that turned a 2-0 game into a 5-0 rout -- and with CC Sabathia on the mound for the Yankees, about as close to a sure victory as this team can provide just three innings into a ball game.

Steven BisigThe Yankees got off to a fast start Sunday in Seattle, and Andruw Jones was key.

Gardner, of course, will play again, and often. Posada, on the other hand, is certainly facing the loss of a big chunk of his playing time in this, his final season under contract to the only professional baseball organization he has ever known.

Derek Jeter was the designated hitter on Sunday, being given his turn in Girardi's periodic rotation of his veteran infielders as DHs in order to save their aging legs. Later this week, it will be Alex Rodriguez' turn, and at some point, Mark Teixeira's.

But on those other days, those days when Jeter and A-Rod and Teixeira are back at their normal positions and a left-hander is on the mound, it is quite likely Jones will be the DH and Posada will be riding the bench.

That is what happens when you are 39 years old, are hitting .174 overall and have yet to get a hit in 26 attempts batting from the right side of the plate.

The calendar may read May, but for Posada it is December as far as his prospects of starting any more games against left-handed pitching. And with the Oakland Athletics, against whom the Yankees visit to begin a three-game series on Monday afternoon, starting two left-handers, Posada will be lucky to play more than once between now and Friday.

That is bad news for him, an integral member of Yankees teams that won World Championships in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. And it is good news for Jones, who at 34 seems on the verge of resurrecting a career that began so promisingly at Yankee Stadium 15 years ago, when he belted two home runs in a World Series game as a teenage center fielder for the Atlanta Braves.

The last time Jones had started a game -- Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium -- he duplicated the feat against the Blue Jays, clubbing a pair of two-run homers into the net above Monument Park, the deepest part of the ballpark.

Sunday's performance now gave him seven RBI in his past two starts, and although his batting average remains an anemic .236, the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal this winter hoping he would provide what he has so far -- right-handed power off the bench.

Now, they may be asking him to do it more often, in the starting lineup.

"I'm feeling good the last few games for sure," Jones said. "Before I left New York I had about 20 at-bats, I wish I could erase 'em. But I have kept working, kept hanging in there, kept working with Kevin Long so that when my name gets called I can go out there and get my job done."

Jones' hit came at a fortuitous time for the Yankees, who were still reeling from having blown a 3-0 lead on Friday and a 3-1 lead on Saturday, losing the latter in 12 innings, a game that ended less than 12 hours before Sunday's first pitch.

At the time, they led 2-0 and facing neither Michael Pineda nor Felix Hernandez, were feeling pretty good with the bases loaded and two out in the third. Still, with Jones at bat they needed what they have been lacking for much of this season, a timely hit, and when Jones lashed Vargas' 3-2 cutter into the right-field gap, they had it.

All three runners came around to score, and Jones, who can still run a little bit despite advancing age and more than enough girth, chugged into third as Nick Swisher swiped home plate with his hand while eluding the tag of catcher Chris Gimenez.

"I thought that was a real turning point in the game," Girardi said. "We needed that. Five-nothing is a whole lot better than 2-0. We wanted to ride CC a long time today because of what went on last night and that hit helped us do it."

All along, Girardi has expressed faith in what Jones, a former 50+ home run hitter, could bring to his lineup, even as he struggled through a subpar spring and fell into a slump after a good start to the regular season.

"He's swinging the bat good now," Girardi said. "He's been very productive. Seven RBIs in his last two games, it doesn't get any better than that."

The Yankees added another run when Eduardo Nunez, playing shortstop in place of Jeter, tripled in Jones, and capped their scoring in the fourth when Teixieira singled in Curtis Granderson, who had doubled. Granderson, by the way, shows no sign of cooling off; he had a single, double and triple in Sunday's game and is hitting .282 with 16 HRs and 37 RBI, both team-leading figures.

CC Sabathia
Steven Bisig/US PresswireCC Sabathia shut down the Mariners, allowing just one run over eight innings at Safeco.

That kind of offensive outburst was one the Yankees could not give away even if they had tried, especially not with Sabathia on the mound. With a bullpen reduced to, essentially, Lance Pendleton and Mariano Rivera after Saturday night's marathon, Sabathia was everything an ace is supposed to be and everything the Yankees needed him to be, throwing eight strong innings (five hits, one run on a solo HR by Justin Smoak).

He also made the defensive play of the game, snagging Ichiro Suzuki's comebacker with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth to start a snappy 1-2-3 double play, choking off Seattle's only real threat of the game.

"He knows how to pitch with a lead," Girardi said, and Sabathia (6-3) has had plenty of them this year, enjoying the second-highest run support of any starter in the AL, with 7.63 runs per game.

"These guys score a lot of runs for me," Sabathia said. "I got no complaints."

Nor do they with him. This was the fourth time this season Sabathia has thrown at least eight innings -- he went nine his last time out in the walkoff win over Toronto on May 24 -- and on a day when the Yankees hoped to use their bullpen as little as possible, insured they would only need Pendleton to throw a mop-up ninth.

Considering what was at stake -- a possible sweep by the Mariners at the start of a grueling nine-game, three-city West Coast swing -- it may have been the clutch pitching performance of the season so far for the Yankees.

"I just don't think about it," Sabathia said by means of explanation. "I don't try to put any extra pressure on myself. I want to go out and pitch a good game every time out no matter what and I try not to let the situation affect the way I pitch. I just throw the ball over the plate and try to get these guys back in so they can score."

It's a good plan and one that would-be CCs such as Ivan Nova would be wise to study and absorb.

"CC just takes it upon himself and when he gets into a little jam, there's no panic to him," Girardi said. "A lot of people can learn from watching a guy like CC."

•••

Phil Hughes threw a pregame bullpen session and reported, "No news is good news," meaning he felt good after throwing 30 pitches and mixing in a few curves and changeups among the fastballs. According to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Hughes will rest a couple of days, perhaps play some catch, before throwing another bullpen either Wednesday in Oakland or in Los Angeles during Thursday's off-day. "We're going to take this one step at a time," Rothschild said. ... On the 16th anniversary of his major league debut, which took place in the defunct Kingdome, Derek Jeter had a sixth-inning single, hit No. 2,980. Do the math. ... Nick Swisher, who was livid about having a home run stolen from him by Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, was relieved, to say the least, that he got one past Michael Saunders in the second inning Sunday to provide the Yankees' first run of the game. It was his third of the year and first since May 7. "It makes the flight to Oakland a little easier," he said. ... Granderson is 10-for-22 (.455) over his past five games. ... With this win, the Yankees kept alive a 15-year streak of being sweepless in Seattle; the last time they got swept here was August 1996, when their catcher was a guy named Joe Girardi. ... Bartolo Colon (2-3, 3.77) opens the series in Oakland, facing RHP Trevor Cahill (6-2, 2.02), Monday afternoon. First pitch at 4:05 p.m. ET.

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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