Later tonight, when Darrell Rasner faces off against A.J. Burnett (gulp), Hideki Matsui should return to the lineup for the first time in two months. Hideki hasn’t played June 22, and by all accounts, he’ll need knee surgery this year. With Matsui returning, though, I have to wonder how the Yanks plan on using him.
On the season, Matsui had been quietly having a great season before he hurt his knee. While his power was down a bit — he has just 7 home runs in 69 games — his triple-slash numbers are .323/.404/.458.
But Matsui has excelled in a few situations this year when the rest of the team has not. In 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Matsui is hitting .338/.449/.462. In clutch situations, he’s been stellar as well. If the Yanks are to make a run for October over the last six weeks of the season, they sure could use a bat like Matsui’s in the lineup.
There’s one catch: Where should the Yankees play Matsui? As far as I can tell, the Yanks’ lineup is full, and inserting Matsui into the order could weaken the team.
Right now, the Yanks’ outfield consists of some combination of Xavier Nady, Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. In the DH slot, they use the odd man out of the outfield — usually Damon or Nady — or Jason Giambi with Wilson Betemit stepping in at first. The Yanks aren’t about to sit Xavier Nady and his +171 OPS. Damon’s been a stellar offense force, and even Jason Giambi has managed to turn in a good season. Bobby Abreu leads the team in RBIs.
Meanwhile, Matsui can only DH. So how will Joe Girardi manage this one? I’m guessing that Jason Giambi will play first and Matsui will DH. Brett Gardner will perhaps be the odd man out, but the Yanks seem committed to playing him. Plus, the defense suffers significantly with Damon in center.
Right now, I’m basically just thinking out loud, but if the Yanks want to insert Matsui in the lineup, the outfield would generally be Nady-Damon-Abreu. That’s not my ideal lineup, but with Matsui returning, it will do.
Of course, we’re being a bit premature. No one knows how Matsui’s knee will hold up, and the Yanks probably won’t push it too much. Damon is better suited to the DH/OF role he’s inhabited for much of the year, and Brett Gardner has, in his most recent call-up, shown the promise and ability we thought he would the first time around.
Considering the way the Yanks have been going, having too much offense would be a welcome problem, and we’ll see, starting tonight, how Girardi and his coaches handle it. As long as Hideki hits, it almost doesn’t matter.