Commentary

The Grandy Man belongs up top

Granderson is hitting lefties and deserves a trial run as Yanks' everyday No. 2 hitter

Updated: June 2, 2010, 2:09 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- OK, all together now:

"Who can hit a lefty? The Grandy Man can … "

All right, so maybe it's too soon to have a group singalong. But for a guy who came here with the reputation of having a bigger problem with lefties than Rush Limbaugh, Curtis Granderson has certainly done his best in the past week to rewrite that bit of personal history.

Now it's time for the Yankees to rewrite their lineup card. Without going through all the offseason machinations again, what they essentially did is trade Johnny Damon for Granderson -- parting with a speedy-but-aging outfielder who was a perfect No. 2 hitter and adding a speedy young outfielder who is also a perfect No. 2 hitter.

But -- and this is a big "but" -- the Yankees believe that's only against right-handers.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Granderson
Al Bello/Getty ImagesCurtis Granderson missed 23 games, but has been hot since he returned.

That is why on Monday, with the right-hander Mitch Talbot throwing for the Cleveland Indians, Granderson batted second; on Tuesday, with the left-hander Brian Matusz throwing for the Baltimore Orioles, Granderson found himself batting eighth.

Granderson's lifetime numbers seem to support this kind of thinking -- he's a .271 hitter overall in his career, but an anemic .211 versus lefties -- but his numbers for the past five games since he came off the disabled list indicate it might be time for the Yankees to think outside that box.

Since returning on May 28 after missing 23 games with a groin strain, Granderson has collected five hits in 16 at-bats. And guess what? Four of them have come against left-handed pitchers, formerly the bane of his existence, including a towering home run in the fifth inning of the Yankees' 3-1 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

It may be premature to declare Granderson over his left-o-phobia, but it is not too early to notice that, this week at least, Granderson appears on his way to conquering the one demon that has haunted him throughout his seven major league seasons.

Still, Joe Girardi seems reluctant to commit to Granderson as his everyday No. 2 hitter, preferring to shuttle him up and down the lineup card according to matchups -- even though by his own admission the manager prefers the light-hitting-but-speedy Brett Gardner near the bottom of the order, and by observation it is clear Nick Swisher is a much better and more productive hitter in the middle of the lineup than near the top.

"Curtis is a guy we're going to see a lot there [the 2-hole] against righties,'' Girardi said. "Against lefties, you might see him get a day off now and then.''

Or batting eighth. Clearly the numbers say Granderson's problems with lefties are real; perhaps less clear is the possibility that dropping him in the order against lefties -- or worse, avoiding playing him altogether -- sends the message that the Yankees don't believe he can do the job in that situation. In that case, Granderson's futility against southpaws becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Asked to explain his troubles against lefties, Granderson said, "I honestly, really don't know. I don't have that many at-bats against them, that's one thing that makes the numbers skewed a little bit. But I know I can hit lefties. I was able to hit left-handers in the minor leagues or else I wouldn't have made it up here.''

Indeed. And with Nick Johnson out indefinitely after wrist surgery, Granderson would appear to be the best option to hit between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. If nothing else, it is worth an extended trial period, especially coming off a weekend in which Granderson was a veritable lefty-killer.

In his first game back, the Indians brought in lefty Tony Sipp specifically to pitch to Granderson in the seventh inning of a 4-1 game. Girardi left Granderson in, and he rewarded that decision with a double into the right-field gap and wound up scoring on Robinson Cano's grand slam.

Two days later, Indians manager Manny Acta tried it again, and again Granderson doubled and wound up scoring on Alex Rodriguez' three-run bomb. On Monday, Acta made the same mistake with a different left-handed pitcher, Rafael Perez. This time Granderson singled, coming around to score on A-Rod's grand slam.

"I think it's just a matter of staying in there with them, not falling behind in the count, and not panicking if I do,'' said Granderson, who hit a 3-2 fastball from Matusz over the fence to give the Yankees a 1-0 fifth-inning lead. It was one of the few well-hit balls all night by the Yankees, who needed a throwing error by Miguel Tejada to get the winning runs home in the seventh.

Granderson credited Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long with helping him deal with his bugaboo, although less as a hitting coach than as a batting-practice pitcher.

"The fact that he's willing to be in there day-in and day-out throwing left-handed BP for us is a huge help,'' Granderson said. "You can't really simulate what a left-hander can do on the mound unless we get CC [Sabathia] or Andy [Pettitte] to throw to us, and those two aren't going to do that. So he's a really close substitute for what we want to get done in game situations.''

Whatever it is, it's paying off. Since he's come back, Granderson is abusing lefties, batting .667 (4-for-6) with a home run. Still, until his name is penciled into the top of the lineup against lefties and righties alike, the perception will persist that the new Yankees center fielder is basically a platoon player.

"Throughout my career, there's always been something people said I couldn't do,'' Granderson said. "I was too slow to play center field. I didn't have enough power to play the corners. I was always going to be a fourth outfielder. I heard it all. And I know I still have a long way to go to eliminate all of that kind of talk.''

But the Yankees can help change the conversation simply by changing the lineup. Now, all together now:

"Who can hit in the 2-hole?

The Grandy Man can … "

Or at least be given the chance to try.

GAME NOTES: Jeter took over sole possession of second place on the all-time Yankees doubles list with 450, moving one ahead of Bernie Williams, and 84 behind Lou Gehrig. More importantly, Jeter has 19 hits in his past 37 at-bats (.514 batting average) and his average on the season is back up to .307. … Cano had two hits to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, the longest streak by a Yankee so far this season. … Incredible as it may seem, Mariano Rivera's save, No. 11 on the season, was his first at home since April 30. … Joba Chamberlain rebounded from an awful 1/3 of an inning in Saturday's 13-11 loss to the Indians with a spotless eighth. … Wednesday night's matchup: RHP Phil Hughes (6-1, 2.70) versus RHP Brad Bergesen (3-3, 5.96).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees 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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