TAMPA, Fla. -- It appears that the great center field experiment has been called off on account of a busted arm.
Joe Girardi said after the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Red Sox in Fort Myers that his idea of swapping Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in left and center fields is basically kaput because the 10 weeks Granderson will spend on the sideline robs him of the time to learn a new position.
Girardi gave a clue when he started Gardner in left field on Sunday and all but made it official after the game, when he said, "There's a chance I'm going to abandon it."
His reason? The obvious one. "We don't really have the chance to work on it," he said.
Girardi's decision probably means a major league job for Melky Mesa as the starting center fielder until Granderson comes back around May 5, and a full season in left for Gardner.
Mesa, 26, is considered basically a defensive outfielder -- his career batting average in the minors is .244 -- but he did have 23 home runs last season while splitting time between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. His major league batting average is .500; he had a hit in two at-bats as a September call-up last year.
Asked if this meant Mesa would start the season as the Yankees' center fielder, Girardi said, "It could be, if we're playing against left-handers. It could be. We have to see who's going to replace Curtis."
Girardi also raised the possibility that Zoilo Almonte could make the team as well, perhaps putting the fates of veterans Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, who were expected to vie for the backup outfielder's job, in jeopardy. At the very least, it appears that Almonte, who is batting .308 this spring, will be getting more some work in the outfield the rest of the way.
"It could be, hypothetically, Zoilo Almonte," Girardi said. "Maybe Gardy goes to center, (Ichiro Suzuki) goes to left, Zoilo goes to right. Or Rivera, I could do it that same way. Until I sort out what we have, it's going to be kind of difficult to determine how we do it."
But one thing seems certain: Curtis Granderson, the Yankees' center fielder for the last three seasons, will play most of his game there this season, as well.