Thursday, March 17, 2011
Updated: March 18, 9:06 AM ET
Brett Gardner leads off for Yankees
By Wallace Matthews
TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Girardi likes to say spring training is the time to experiment.
In that spirit, Thursday he experimented with his lineup. For the first time all spring, Brett Gardner was the New York Yankees leadoff hitter. Derek Jeter, who hit leadoff in 137 of the 155 games he started last season, batted second.
"It's just a little different look, lead off Gardy and see what that looks like," Girardi said Thursday. "With Gardy leading off, he gets on base a lot, takes a lot of pitches as well. We'll see how it works out."
Thursday's game against the Rays was only the second time all spring that Girardi has used all his regulars -- with the exception of catcher Russell Martin, who caught Wednesday night against the Orioles -- in the same lineup. Jesus Montero caught Thursday night and hit in Gardner's customary ninth spot in the batting order.
Girardi cautioned against anticipating that any of his spring training lineups will be the one he sends out on March 29, Opening Day, against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
"We signed Jeet to be a top of the order hitter," Girardi said. "That's what we signed him to do. I think he's going to get back to what he did [before last season]."
And one way or the other, Gardner and Jeter will likely be linked in the order.
"Jeet and Gardy hit together all the time," Girardi said. "All but the first time through the lineup. So to them, it really shouldn't be any different."
Still, the flip-flopping of Gardner and Jeter could have implications for the future of both players and the team.
Last season, one of the worst of Jeter's Hall of Fame career, Gardner had a better overall on-base percentage -- .383 to .340 -- and when batting leadoff, as he did in 25 games last season, his OBP was .412.
"It's a small sample," Gardner said Thursday afternoon in the clubhouse, where he did not know the batting order until informed by reporters at his locker.
Plus, his superior speed and basestealing abilities -- Gardner stole 47 bases to Jeter's 18 -- make him more suited to the leadoff position in the eyes of many.
"It doesn't make any difference to me where I hit," said Gardner, who was batting just .259 this spring heading into Thursday's game but with a .412 OBP due to a team-leading seven walks. "My approach isn't any different. My job is to get on base. If I get on base, I'm gonna score with the guys behind me, whether I'm hitting ninth, first, second, eighth, whatever. As long as I'm in the lineup."
Jeter was not available for comment before the game, but Girardi said he likes what Gardner brings to the top of the lineup.
"It's something we're trying because of what [Gardner] did last year and the problems he causes for other teams," Girardi said. "He puts pressure on the pitcher. A lot of times, pressure leads to mistakes, and you get to the guys in the middle of the order and those mistakes become bigger mistakes. That's what we want our hitters to be able to do."
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.