Big 3 deliver in Cano's place for a night

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
11:40
PM ET

NEW YORK -- The Yankees guaranteed nearly $300 million to three players to essentially replace Robinson Cano's offense.

In the first half, $153 million man Jacoby Ellsbury lived up to his billing -- at least in the eyes of his manager, Joe Girardi.

The $45 million man, Carlos Beltran, has shuttled between the DL and the lineup and is still banged up enough that he can only DH.

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The $85 million catcher, Brian McCann, was the biggest disappointment of the first half. He had no injuries or real excuses to lean on, so he took a sledgehammer to his stance ahead of the All-Star break. Now, he has appeared to be a better hitter for more than a week.

On the first day of the second half, the three were responsible for all of the Yankees' four runs, each one a go-ahead hit.

McCann nailed a two-out RBI double in the first. Beltran singled for a 2-1 lead in the third. In the fifth, Ellsbury nailed a two-run shot to complete the four runs the Yankees would need to hold off the Reds, thanks largely to strong outings from three homegrown pitchers: David Phelps, Dellin Betances and David Robertson.

But this was about the imports and the importance for a successful Yankee second half. If the Yankees are going to do anything in these final 10 weeks and change, they are going need McCann and Beltran to join Ellsbury as consistent, productive hitters.

It is as obvious as it is true.

Even with Ellsbury delivering the game's biggest hit, McCann right now is the guy to watch. Over his last 11 games, he is hitting .356 (16-for-45) and has raised his average from .220 to .239.

Just prior to the All-Star Break a frustrated McCann, along with hitting coach Kevin Long, decided to reconstruct everything. For his whole life, he had hit with a toe tap. Now it's gone.

McCann had been late on a lot of pitches. So they moved his hands into a more steady, hitting position. Basically, the two cut the fat from his approach so he was ready to get where he needed to be sooner. It is a drastic change that is not yet natural, but it is getting there.

"It feels better every day," McCann said.

McCann had his RBI single in the first, but his at-bat in the third may be more instructive of the direction he is heading. With two men on and one out, he just missed going the other way for a three-run shot off Mike Leake.

It was a hard hit ball that demonstrated McCann may be putting things together. This could be Curtis Granderson in 2010 all over again, when Long reinvented another formerly successful hitter.

Beltran, however, is hard to judge from the first half between his elbow, his knee and a concussion he has said never happened. Beltran stepped off the 7-day concussion list by saying he never thought he had one in the first place.

Whatever the case, he has missed nearly a third of the Yankees' games. But a 2-for-4 night like Friday was a good way to return.

Meanwhile, Ellsbury is hitting .284 with seven homers, 44 RBIs and 25 steals. He may be refreshed after feeling "beat up," in the words of Girardi, before the break.

"It was frustrating watching him play when he was on the other side of the ball," Phelps said of Ellsbury. "It has been nothing but a pleasure to have him on the team. He is another bat who can carry a lineup."

Phelps had already said the same about Beltran and McCann. Those three players don't necessarily have to carry the team or even be Cano, but they have to help make four runs or more a habit for the Yankees going forward.

"Those guys are going to get hot," Derek Jeter said.

If they do, the Yankees may have a chance.

Notes: Jeter started at short for 2,610th time, passing Omar Vizquel for the most on the all-time list. ... The Yankees snapped a five-game home losing streak. ... Phelps has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts.
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146