Experience Tops Youth as Garcia Halts Rays

Freddy Garcia, Eduardo Nunez, Joe GirardiThe Tampa Bay Rays continued one of the more amazing streaks in modern baseball Wednesday night, starting a pitcher younger than 30 years old for the 698th consecutive game. Their ability to identify, draft and develop talent has helped them compete in a cutthroat division against the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees, who opted to assemble this year’s rotation through different means.

On display for the Yankees at Tropicana Field on Wednesday was a 34-year-old veteran starter who agreed to a minor league deal in January, not even receiving the safety of a guaranteed contract.

That pitcher, Freddy Garcia, lifted the Yankees to a 4-0 victory, working six and two-thirds innings to outduel the Rays’ superb 25-year-old left-hander, David Price. Garcia scattered eight hits and struck out seven without issuing a walk, rebounding from a poor outing last Friday in Toronto. The wild-card-leading Yankees hold a six-and-a-half-game lead over Tampa Bay with their ace, C. C. Sabathia, scheduled to pitch Thursday night.

“It doesn’t matter how hard I throw,” Garcia said. “I told you, I’ll find a way to get people out. That’s more important. A lot of people throw hard, and they don’t get nobody out.”

Not that Garcia’s rotation spot was in jeopardy — “Because they’re older, people tend to think, is this the end every time they had a bad start,” Manager Joe Girardi said — but it reassured the Yankees to see him stymie the Rays with a nasty splitter that challenged catcher Russell Martin all game.

The only person beat up more than Martin was Curtis Granderson, who supplied the only runs Garcia needed, launching Price’s seventh pitch into the right-field seats for a two-run homer. Granderson later fouled a ball off his right calf, was drilled between the shoulder blades by a Price fastball and crashed into the center-field fence while nabbing Evan Longoria’s deep drive in the fifth, all coming 24 hours after his left ankle was struck by a pitch.

“It probably looked a lot worse than it was,” Granderson said of the catch, then added, “If it had happened at Yankee Stadium, it wouldn’t have been pretty.”

Only one other time did the Rays threaten against Garcia, and it was not even he who quelled the rally. After a bunt single and an error by Eduardo Nunez in the seventh, Girardi summoned Boone Logan with two outs to face the left-handed-hitting Casey Kotchman.

Despite making a costly fielding error Tuesday, Logan earned praise from Girardi, who called his stuff “outstanding.” Logan fired a 94-mile-per-hour fastball by Kotchman to end the inning and pumped his fist as he walked off the field.

“That’s a perfect scenario,” said Logan, who has retired 19 of his last 22 left-handed batters. “That’s what we want to do.”

As Girardi weighed a possible lineup shakeup, Granderson’s home run offered conflicting evidence for a move out of the No. 2 spot — a power struggle, so to speak. The Yankees value having a slugger like Granderson hitting second, hoping that with one swing he can give them a quick two-run lead, just as Nick Swisher did last season and Johnny Damon in 2009.

Already this season, Granderson has hit five two-run homers in the first, all with Derek Jeter on base.

A lineup configuration with Brett Gardner, the team leader in on-base percentage, batting eighth or ninth, and Granderson, the team leader in homers and runs batted in, batting second seemed to work for Girardi when he had a full complement of players.

But without the power potential of Alex Rodriguez, Girardi said he had been thinking about different lineups to lift a sagging offense — in particular, one with Gardner leading off against right-handed pitching, a move that would drop Jeter to second and Granderson to third.

“It’s something you definitely think about,” Girardi said before referring to Gardner. “You know, maybe you get him back up top somewhere. I mean, I don’t have any plans. I haven’t done it yet.”

To capitalize on Gardner’s scorching streak since the All-Star break, the test case could come as soon as Thursday, when James Shields is scheduled to pitch for Tampa Bay. Over the last seven games, Gardner is hitting .560 with a .621 on-base percentage, seven stolen bases and six runs scored. Girardi was eager to employ a leadoff platoon coming out of spring training but abandoned it after two weeks when Gardner started slowly, then revisited the idea before a July 8 rainout because Rodriguez and Swisher were injured.

The Yankees have scored 36 runs in nine games without Rodriguez, who will miss up to four weeks after knee surgery. Take away Jeter’s five-hit game July 9, when he collected his 3,000th career hit, and over that span he is batting .200 with no extra-base hits. If Girardi were to follow through with this minor — and, potentially, temporary — switch, Jeter would again become the subject of intense scrutiny.

Published by: BEN SHPIGEL


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