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Tuesday, April 9, 2013
First Pitch: Keep Gardner in center

By Andrew Marchand

The ball was hit a mile long and nearly as high. Sunday, in the ninth, Austin Jackson smacked a Mariano Rivera pitch into deep right center. It was the type of ball that separates a good center fielder from a great center fielder.

A good center fielder maybe gets there and makes the catch. So perhaps Curtis Granderson makes the play. A great center fielder not only gets there, but makes it look relatively easy. Brett Gardner caught the ball with a little time to spare.

When talking about defense, it is often hard to pinpoint exact moments that exemplify why one fielder is better than another. But the Gardner catch, saved Rivera at least two runs, maybe more. The score was 7-0 Yankees so it had no impact on the game, but you wonder if the Yankees should forge ahead with Gardner in center.

The idea was aborted because Granderson broke his forearm this spring. The Yankees, with the help of all the defensive metrics, were leaning toward putting Gardner in center and Granderson in left. They just wanted to make sure that Granderson looked and felt comfortable with the move. There was no question, in their mind, they were better defensively with this alignment.

The more you watch Gardner in center and the less the Yankees score, it makes you think that maybe they should go forward with the experiment anyway. Moving Granderson to left isn't like switching Todd Hundley from catcher to the outfield. The ball can line off the bat and spin differently, but, in the end, it is still basically the same. Granderson has played left -- albeit minimally -- in the majors before.

The Yankees know they don't have that much room for error this season, which is why I think they should gamble a little. If they are going to be the beast of the AL East, they are going to have to make some of their own luck and take some chances. The conservative move is to keep Granderson in center when he returns early next month and switch Gardner back to left. I don't think the Yankees have the luxury of being conservative.

UP NOW: Wallace Matthews on Robinson Cano.

ON DECK: Andy Pettitte (1-0, 1.13) faces rookie Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco is making his first major league start since 2011. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m.

QUESTION: Would you keep Gardner in center?