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Sunday, June 15, 2014
Without Teixeira, Yankees are in big trouble

By Wallace Matthews

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mark Teixeira hopes his latest injury -- either a lat, an oblique, or one of several other muscles neither he nor manager Joe Girardi could remember or pronounce -- will turn out to be "a one-day thing," meaning he hopes to be back in the lineup for Sunday's series and road-trip finale against the Athletics.

But as we all should know by now, anytime someone uses the "O" word, as in oblique, odds are the absence will be much longer than that.

And if that is the case with Teixeira, look out.

He's not setting the league on fire with his batting average, which is a rather puny .241, but Teixeira's slugging percentage (.463) is the highest on the Yankees, his on-base percentage is a more than respectable .361, and his OPS (.824) is 50 points higher than runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury's. Most importantly, he is the team leader in home runs, with 11 -- and while no one is going to confuse that number with the total of, say, Nelson Cruz, there isn't another Yankee with more than seven.

Simply put, take Teixeira out of the Yankees' lineup and you've got the equivalent of the left-field lights at O.co Coliseum. You've basically yanked out the power cord.

That is why Sunday's pregame Girardi news conference will contain some real news: namely, how serious is this latest Teixeira ouchy, and how long will he be out because of it?

After Saturday night's 5-1 loss, Girardi seemed to think the news would be positive. Teixeira was examined by the A's team doctor after his back "locked up" following batting practice, and the doc didn't seem to give the Yankees much reason to worry.

"He said it could be a lat, it could be an oblique, and I think there were four other muscles that he named," Girardi said. "It’s just kinda in an area where everything meets. I think you’ll have a better idea tomorrow."

But the manager didn't seem to think an MRI was in order, which is good news. And Teixeira seemed reasonably sure it was not an oblique strain, an injury that generally means a month or six weeks on the shelf.

"It’s in my mid-back, kind of below the left shoulder," he said. "It’s not an oblique. I’ve pulled an oblique before and it’s not that. It wasn’t on one swing. I just woke up this morning, it was tight and it just slowly got worse, finally went into spasm."

But Teixeira allowed that his back had "locked up pretty good," and didn't even try to make the case, as so many Yankees do, that had it been up to him he would have played Saturday night.

"These things happen every now and then," he said. "You get muscle spasms. Sometimes they’re worse than others; today was pretty bad. It just really locked up on me after BP."

Adding to the confusion was the original announcement from the Yankees, that Teixeira had been scratched due to "tightness in the left side of his ribcage."

So for now, the safe thing to do is assume Teixeira and Girardi are being truthful -- that it is simply a back spasm and not an oblique or, worse, a flare-up of his surgically-repaired right wrist, and that he will be back in the lineup Sunday, or no later than Tuesday's home game against the Blue Jays.

Because the Yankees may not have won Saturday night's game against the A's and Scott Kazmir anyway, but Teixeira's absence certainly contributed to their defeat.

For one thing, it took the most powerful bat out of the Yankees lineup, a bat that had accounted for 11 hits, two of them home runs, in 20 career at-bats against Kazmir.

For another, it forced catcher Brian McCann to play first base, a position he had played only one other time in his big-league career -- earlier this year, when Teixeira couldn't go. That move didn't hurt the Yankees -- McCann handled the ball flawlessly on all three outs in the first inning, and made a good scoop in the third and a spectacular diving stop in the fifth, saving a run. But the corresponding move, inserting rookie John Ryan Murphy to catch Hiroki Kuroda, certainly did.

Twice in the fifth inning, Murphy allowed pitches to get past him, and the passed balls led directly to two Oakland runs. Murphy left the clubhouse without talking to reporters, but neither the manager nor the starting pitcher left any doubt about who was at fault. Girardi, a former catcher, called them "balls that we didn't catch behind home plate. Kuroda said, "There wasn't any miscommunication," meaning Murphy was not crossed up. He simply didn't catch two pitches he should have caught, and as a result a 2-1 game became a 4-1 game.

Mark Teixeira
The Yankees don't just miss Teixeira's bat, they miss him in the field too.
And without the threat of Teixeira's bat, a three-run deficit on most nights is too much for this offense to overcome.

"Well, it makes it more difficult, that’s for sure," Girardi said, of playing without Teixeira. "And that’s one of the reasons we said we’re not going to play you tonight, because we don’t want this to turn into something big."

In recent years, however, what is thought to be a little thing with Teixeira often turns out to be something big. For eight of his first 11 seasons, he was among the most durable players in baseball, twice playing all 162 games. But the past couple of seasons, it has become increasingly difficult for him to stay on the field.

He played just 123 games in 2012, and last year of course he missed all but 15 games due to serious wrist surgery. In 2014 he has already missed 20 games -- with a hamstring strain, which sent him to the disabled list, and intermittent but recurring pain in his wrist, which has already necessitated a cortisone shot.

Once again, both Teixeira and Girardi say the latest injury is nothing to worry about and that he will be back in the lineup soon, maybe as soon as Sunday afternoon.

"It's kind of hard to pinpoint what it is," Girardi said. "We'll just wait and see how he is [Sunday], and hopefully, he's a player for us."

Lights out: Apparently the bank of lights above the left-field seats did not fail in the fourth inning of Saturday night's game; they never even came on. Girardi said he first noticed the section of dark lights in the second inning, when there was still plenty of sunlight over the O.co.

"I said to our guys, 'Are those lights always off?'" Girardi said. "And then nothing really happened until [A's manager] Bob Melvin came out. They were never on, which makes me question why someone didn’t notice who is here every day."

Girardi said if the delay had lasted 10 or 15 minutes longer, he would not have brought Kuroda back out. "I don’t think it really helps a guy to have a 40-minute delay," Girardi said. "He was playing catch and staying loose, but we knew that his pitch count wouldn’t go real deep."

For his part, Kuroda said the delay did not affect him. "I didn't really think too much about it," he said. "There are rain delays too, so I have experienced that sort of thing."

Bang-bang play: Upon further review, Kelly Johnson admitted he probably should have allowed Coco Crisp's fifth-inning bunt up the third-base line roll foul.

"Coco is fast, and I had to make a decision," he said. "But after I saw the replay I could see it was going to go foul on the next hop. In hindsight, it would have been nice to let it roll. But in the speed of the game, my instincts and eyes said try to make the play. I got it on the palm, too. If I would have gotten a good grip, I think I would have gotten him still."