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Saturday, April 9, 2011
Updated: April 10, 9:55 AM ET
Make room, 'cause here comes Chavez

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- Eric Chavez came to the New York Yankees knowing his job would be to back up two of the most durable and productive players in their lineup.

Mark Teixeira has averaged 157 games in each of the last three seasons and in 2005 and 2006 played all 162. Before his three-year run of injuries somewhat limited his playing time, Alex Rodriguez regularly played 150-plus games a year; this season, he says he feels healthier than he has since, well, he was playing 150-plus games a year.

So opportunities are few and far between for Chavez to play, let alone show that he still can play at levels approaching his peak years with the Oakland A's, for whom he routinely hit between 25 and 30 home runs a year before injuries began chipping away at him in 2007.

Still, Chavez says, "I always felt this was a good spot for me. When I added everything up, it just made a lot of sense."

Eric Chavez
Eric Chavez (right) went 3-for-5 with an RBI and scored on Russell Martin's first homer of the day.

And in the long run, he might be right, because the way Chavez hit the ball Saturday at Fenway Park, twice getting up close and personal with the large green structure in left known as the Monster and a third time dropping a flare in front of J.D. Drew for a single, it is going to be harder and harder for Joe Girardi to keep him out of the lineup.

"Just let me enjoy this for 10 minutes," Girardi pleaded in the visiting manager's office after the Yankees had outslugged the Boston Red Sox 9-4 to even this three-game series at one apiece and drop the highly touted home team to a disconcerting 1-7 this season.

"We just been outside for four hours," Girardi said. "I got all day to think about what I'm going to do tomorrow. We got a late game. We'll be here late, too."

Hopefully for Girardi, too late for anyone to ask him the question that hung in the air after the game. Namely, if there's no room in the infield for Chavez, might there be some at DH?

It is a question Girardi would rather not wrestle with right now, and honestly, who could blame him? Through eight games of a new season, the manager has already had to deal with the Fifth Starter Competition, the Leadoff Hitter Controversy and the Eighth-Inning Guy Conundrum.

The last thing he has the stomach for right now is a Designated Hitter Dilemma, especially if it involves the further squeezing of Jorge Posada, future Hall of Famer, charter member of the Core Four and quite publicly reluctant DH.

And just as honestly, after three seasons of part-time work, who knows for sure if Chavez's 33-year-old body, wracked by shoulder and back injuries the past four seasons, is even up to the task of playing three times a week, let alone every day?

"I don't even worry about my health anymore," Chavez said. "I already answered those questions for myself in the spring."

And besides, not having been an everyday player since 2007, Chavez conceded, "I've kinda gotten used to it."

Still, at some point, either the 38-year-old Posada is going to have to pick it up -- although he has three home runs in the first seven games, he has just one other hit and is batting .154 in the young season -- or some are going to pick up the idea that perhaps the Yankees would be better served with a different DH. Like Chavez.

Chavez filled that role for the first time as a Yankee on Saturday -- he had been scheduled to play third base against the Twins on Wednesday, a game that was rained out -- and filled it well, going 3-for-5, knocking in two runs with his first double and scoring on the first of Russell Martin's two home runs after his second.

Both those doubles were to the opposite field and well up the 37-foot expanse of green that seems so close it practically casts a shadow over home plate, and both were off starter and loser Clay Buchholz.

"You know it's there," Chavez said of The Wall, which no doubt now knows Chavez was there as well. "The first one was a fastball and I hit it good. The second I didn't hit that great. But just knowing in the back of your mind you can hit a ball like that and still hit it off the wall, it definitely helped."

Of the three old-timers who won jobs in camp this spring, Chavez was the only one who earned his the old-fashioned way -- by clearly outperforming the competition. Freddy Garcia was outpitched by Bartolo Colon but was given the No. 5 starter's job. Although he has looked better since the games turned real, the most impressive thing about Andruw Jones this spring was his résumé.

But Chavez hit the cover off the ball all spring, batting .395 with a home run and four doubles. Signed to a minor league contract that called for a $1.5 million base salary if he made the club, it now looks quite possible Chavez could earn the additional $4 million in playing time-based incentives.

And the issue of his health, which loomed large enough all spring that Girardi refused to announce he had made the team until he came through the final game with all four limbs intact, hardly seems a concern anymore.

"If someone went down, I wouldn't have a problem playing Chavy on a regular basis," Girardi said. "If you had a Tex go down, or Alex go down, or your DH went down, I think Chavy could play pretty regularly. Now, I think you have to manage him -- play him three or four days in a row, then give him a day off. But I think he's a guy who could play a substantial amount of games."

For his part, Chavez seems comfortable with the DH lifestyle, having served 31 of the 33 games he played in his final season with Oakland in the four-at-bats-and-take-a-seat routine that Posada still seems to be struggling with.

"My approach as a DH is just to keep taking swings," Chavez said. "The one thing you gotta do is keep seeing pitches. There's no batting cage here but when we're in New York, I'm in the batting cage like every three innings. So I'm just gonna stay ready like that."

In the meantime, there's no telling when Chavez will play next. Maybe Girardi will decide to give Teixeira or A-Rod a day off, or a DH day. Posada, who did not play Saturday, is no doubt champing at the bit to get back in the lineup for Sunday night's rubber game. The likelihood is Chavez is headed back to the bench, not to be seen again for another few days.

"I'm not going to change my approach," Chavez said. "I've become used to not playing every day. Joe came up to me and said I was in the lineup today, and whenever he puts me I there, I'll just be ready. I know I'm not gonna play a whole lot but whenever I do I'll just try to do my best."

And make the manager's life more difficult than it has already been this season.

• • •

The Yankees hit four home runs, the two by Martin, one by Curtis Granderson that curled around the Pesky Pole, and a mammoth shot deep into the right-field stands by Robinson Cano that landed at least 20 rows back from where the wall reads 380. ... Once again, Girardi seemed to have a quick hook for Ivan Nova, lifting him with two on and one out in the fifth, having allowed four runs on seven hits. But Nova was victimized in the fourth when Cano couldn't get the handle on a flip from Derek Jeter and was unable to turn what could have been an inning-ending double play. Two batters later, the Red Sox capitalized when Dustin Pedroia, who went 3-for-4 with three doubles, doubled in two runs to cut the Yankees' lead to 5-4. David Robertson came on to retire Adrian Gonzalez and the Red Sox didn't score again. ... Robertson, Joba Chamberlain (1 IP, 0 H, 2 K's) and Luis Ayala combined for 4.2 scoreless innings. ... CC Sabathia (0-0, 1.38) faces Josh Beckett (0-1, 5.40) in Sunday night's rubber game (8:05 p.m., ESPN).