New Yanks doing admirable job of holding down fort
With stars on mend, veterans like Hafner, Wells, Overbay keeping club in contention
NEW YORK -- If age wasn't going to sink the Yankees this year, injuries were supposed to. At least, that was the narrative that surrounded the team coming into the season, the noise and storyline that the veteran roster was challenged to ignore and block out.
The Yankees' disabled list showcases a higher payroll than several Major League clubs, and no one has yet tried to fudge the birth certificates in the team's offices. But as the Yanks hit Thursday's off-day seven games above .500, they did so as a club that has beaten the odds and stunned the doubters -- for now.
"I think we've done a good job," designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "Our pitching has been outstanding. I think we've swung the bats pretty well, too. I think we feel good about April, and we're just looking to keep it going."
The Yankees were 16-10 in the season's first month, a mark that looks even better when you consider they lost four of their first five games. Newcomers like Hafner -- in his first season in pinstripes and planted into the heart of the batting order -- have been a big reason why.
Robinson Cano hit his team-leading eighth home run in Wednesday's win over the Astros, but he hasn't had to provide the thunder alone. Hafner, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Brennan Boesch have combined to hit 18 of the Yanks' American League-leading 38 homers while collecting 46 of their 110 RBIs.
While Hafner wasn't supposed to be replacing the likes of Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson in the meat of the order, he was at least always envisioned to be in the clubhouse, inked to a one-year deal as one of the "big hairy monsters" that general manager Brian Cashman talks about -- left-handed bats with patience and power. That describes Hafner's impact nicely.
"You just see that his approach is good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been great in that four-hole for us. With all the people that we've had out, he's really done a good job in our lineup."
But Wells, Overbay and Boesch did not begin the spring with the Yanks, all quite literally picked up as unwanted scraps from other teams -- the Angels, Red Sox and Tigers, respectively. Cashman called it his "Statue of Liberty play," accepting those huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and it has worked.
Ichiro Suzuki is hitting .407 (11-for-27) over his last seven games, as he plays his first full season in New York. Even the struggling Ben Francisco joined the party on Wednesday, collecting his first homer and RBI in a Yankees uniform after being limited to a few loud foul balls in April.
"They brought in really good dudes," Hafner said. "Just a lot of veteran guys and good character guys. I think we've kind of known each other over the years, and the clubhouse has been great. Everybody gets along well and it's been fun."
Overbay, who helped the Yanks win Wednesday's game with smart baserunning, may be finally getting settled after a jarring start to his season.
"They know how to play the game," Girardi said. "They're not going to get frazzled by situations. That's really important, because those situations are going to come up time and time again during the season."
Released by the Red Sox late this spring, Overbay drove the 2 1/2 hours from Fort Myers, Fla., to the Yankees' camp in Tampa, signing on for what essentially amounted to a tryout.
The turnaround was so quick and unexpected, his wife Sarah had to drive back to Fort Myers to collect Overbay's suit just so he could board the Yanks' charter flight for an exhibition in Washington.
"I think we all know our role," Overbay said. "It's just a matter of figuring out what each guy behind you or in front of you can do and what he's capable of doing. I think we're doing a pretty good job of that and trusting in the next guy, because if they're not going to throw you a strike, then you get on to the next guy."
Girardi has refused to say it publicly, but there has been a sense that if the Yankees can stay afloat until reinforcements arrive, they can still manage to hit September and October with championship aspirations.
Return dates for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are very much uncertain, and catcher Francisco Cervelli was moved to the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday when the team acquired infielder Chris Nelson.
But Granderson has moved into extended spring games as he returns from a fractured right forearm, Kevin Youkilis could return from a back injury in two weeks and Teixeira is seeing progress with the torn tendon sheath in his right wrist.
There is help on the way, and the Yanks are happy about that. But it also feels like the current group in the clubhouse wants to keep this roll going a bit longer.
"I'm pleased with the way these guys are playing," Girardi said. "They have done the job. They've done a very good job for us. It hasn't always been pretty, but our guys have come up with clutch hits when we've needed them. I think our pitchers have done a pretty good job. It took a couple guys a little while to get going, but they've seemed to find it. The offense has just been spread around."