For the fourth time in the last nine games, Derek Jeter started at DH last night. That comes after he started only four of the team’s first 121 games at DH. Carlos Beltran’s elbow injury relegated him to full-time DH duty for a few weeks, but even when Beltran was on the disabled list, Jeter was still playing shortstop every day while guys like Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann got regular turns at DH. All these recent starts at DH are a change of pace for the Cap’n.
Joe Girardi, naturally, isn’t making too much of it. He simply chalked it up to giving a veteran player some extra rest late in the season when the opportunity presents itself. Here’s what he told Chad Jennings prior to last night’s game:
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
Jeter is completely unfazed by the starts at DH — “I don’t know how many times I’ve done it … My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play,” he told Jennings — and that isn’t surprising at all. The Yankees have used that DH spot as something of a revolving door to rest their older players over the years, a practice that has caught on around the league. The full-time DH like David Ortiz is a dying breed. Jeter, McCann, Beltran, and Zelous Wheeler (!) have all started a game at DH at some point in the last week, so the revolving door is in full effect.
At this point though, the best Yankees team doesn’t have a revolving door at DH. The best Yankees team right now, in late-August and September of 2014, has Jeter at DH full-time. He hasn’t hit at all this month — .222/.237/.278 in August even after last night’s 2-for-4 — but you and I both know the Yankees aren’t going to drop him in the lineup, let alone take him out of the lineup entirely. Not with only a month of regular season baseball left in his career.
The best thing the Yankees can do at this point is take Jeter out of the field and play Stephen Drew, the far superior defender, at shortstop. The trade-off for the improved infield defense is Drew’s weak bat — he’s over 200 plate appearances now, so “he didn’t have a proper Spring Training” is no longer a valid excuse for his lack of production — as well as Beltran’s awful right field defense, though the latter is a small issue thanks to the ground ball heavy pitching staff. Well, everyone in the rotation except Michael Pineda is a ground baller. Prioritizing outfield defense makes sense when he’s on the mound.
We all know turning Jeter into a full-time DH just isn’t going to happen. He’ll still see his fair share of time in the field, but he started four of the last nine games at DH and that seems like a decent framework going forward, no? I mean, there are only 32 games left in the season. Four out of nine works out to 14 games at DH and 18 at short the rest of the way. The Yankees are still in the race for the second wildcard spot (despite their best efforts in the summer months) and improving the defense by giving Jeter more time at DH the last 32 games makes sense.
All of this is contingent on Beltran’s elbow, obviously. If he can’t play right field, he’ll play DH regularly and Jeter will play shortstop, end of story. If that is not the case though, if that third cortisone shot makes Beltran’s elbow a non-issue these next four and a half weeks, the Yankees could have him and Jeter essentially split their time between DH and the field. Work it around Pineda’s pitching schedule, off-days, the opposing starter (no Drew against lefties, etc.), whatever. The best Yankees team right now has less Jeter in the field and it seems like they’ve acknowledged that these last nine games. Now they just have to continue doing it.