Saturday, April 19, 2014
First Pitch: So long, Solarte? Not a chance
By Wallace Matthews
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- By this time tomorrow, the Yankees should be announcing the reinstatement to their roster of Mark Charles Teixeira, their $23-million-a-year first baseman who is expected to be ready to return after a 15-day stay on the disabled list with a hamstring strain.
That means there will be one infielder too many on the Yankees roster, and someone will have to go.
Yangervis Solarte won't be leaving the Yankees lineup anytime soon.
The 26-year-old rookie, whose formidable skill set somehow eluded the detection of the Minnesota Twins organization for six minor league seasons and the Texas Rangers for two more, is among the leading hitters not only on the Yankees roster, but in the American League. He started Friday night's game leading the AL in batting (.373), on-base percentage (.448), slugging percentage (.569), doubles (seven) and hits (19).
So he's not going anywhere soon. The slipper might yet fall off in this Cinderella story, but he's already done too much for the Yankees to be in any hurry to pull the plug on him.
However, when Teixeira comes back, he's going right back to first base. That means Kelly Johnson is going back to third. Derek Jeter is a fixture (no jokes, please) at shortstop. And Brian Roberts was signed to play second base -- most days anyway.
So where does Solarte fit in, and who sits to make room for him?
"I’ll worry about that when we get there," manager Joe Girardi said. "The kid has played great, there’s no doubt about it. If you’re playing well -- and you’re playing extremely well -- you’re going to continue to play someplace."
Girardi agreed that it was unusual that a player who appears as poised and accomplished as Solarte has in his first 17 big league games could have been overlooked by not one, but two major league organizations over a period of eight years.
But he refused to take the bait that somehow what Solarte has shown the Yankees is an illusion and that eventually, and inevitably, he will return to being the player that never impressed either the Twins or the Rangers enough to take a chance on him. The Rangers, in fact, allowed him to leave as a minor league free agent, and the Yankees scooped him up.
"Some guys are late bloomers," Girardi said. "It’s a short sample, I understand that, but it seems like the kid has an idea of what he’s doing. Sometimes, you wonder how a guy doesn’t get an opportunity."
So far, he has shown an ability to play two infield positions -- second and third -- and Girardi said he would even consider using him at shortstop "in a pinch." So badly did the Yankees want to find a role for him this spring that they even tried him in left field. An added plus is that he's a switch-hitter who has shown equal ability from each side of the plate.
"There are those days you think, 'Is there a day he’s not going get a hit?' and he finds a way to get a hit," Girardi said. "He’s just been really consistent with what he’s done. No matter where we’ve played him, third or second, he’s done a good job for us. He has not been fazed by his surroundings at all. You think about some of the people that he’s probably looked up to over the years watching them play. He’s sitting next to them now performing at an extremely high level."
So there's no question he will continue to play. He will even play tonight, I would bet, even though he fouled a ball off his left shin in the seventh inning last night and was dragging a huge bag of ice on his lower leg in the clubhouse afterward.
When asked Solarte if he was OK to play, he laughed. "I'm fine, fine," he said.
He's come too far to allow something as minor as a bruised shin to keep him out of the lineup.
He'll be in there, all right. The question is where, and in place of whom?
Question: When Tex returns, who should Yangervis Solarte replace in the Yankees infield, Kelly Johnson or Brian Roberts?
Tonight: The Yankees need length out of Ivan Nova (2-1, 5.94 ERA) after the bullpen meltdown in Friday's 11-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Nova faces right-hander Chris Archer (1-1, 4.50) in Game 3 of this four-game series. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.