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Thursday, February 21, 2013
Outfield rejiggering in Yankees' camp

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Manager Joe Girardi has been talking about flipping center fielder Curtis Granderson and left fielder Brett Gardner all spring, and now the Yankees will try it.

For the beginning of training camp at least, Granderson, who has been the every-day center fielder since arriving in the Bronx from Detroit before the 2010 season, and Gardner, who started out as a center fielder but was moved to left when Granderson arrived, will trade positions as the Yankees, having lost nearly 100 home runs through roster changes, seek ways to save runs on defense.

"We're gonna toy with it and see if we like it," Girardi said after the first workout in which Granderson took fly balls in left and Gardner in center. "If we do, we'll stay with it. If we don't, we won't."

According to a host of complicated defensive statistics, Gardner is a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder while Granderson in 2012 was ranked at or near the bottom defensively among every-day center fielders. Girardi said his decision was not based on such stats as UZR, FSR or TZL as much as what his own eyes tell him.

"For me, it's visual perception and what I thought might help us," he said. "I'm not saying this is the way it's going to be on Opening Day."

However, it seems this is how it's going to be starting with the first home exhibition game Sunday against the Blue Jays.

Asked who would be his center fielder when the Yankees travel to Kissimmee to play the Braves in their first spring game on Saturday afternoon, Girardi deadpanned, "Melky Mesa."

Girardi broke the news to Granderson on Thursday morning in a conversation between rounds of hitting in the indoor batting cage after having mentioned Wednesday night that he was considering the move. Gardner was told in the clubhouse before Thursday's workout that he was to take his fly balls in center.

Although he tried to shrug it off, Granderson, who kept reporters waiting for more than an hour after the clubhouse closed before coming out to answer questions, showed his disappointment when he said, "I'd love to play center. That's what I've been playing."

Asked if he would be disappointed if by the end of spring Girardi chose to make the move permanent, Granderson said, "Not at all. I'm playing; that's the important thing. If I get benched, that's a different story."

Gardner, on the other hand, seemed pleased by the prospect of moving back to center, where he played 99 games in 2009 before being shifted to left to accommodate Granderson.

"I feel comfortable out there," said Gardner, who missed all but 16 regular-season games last year with an elbow injury. "I feel more comfortable than I would going out to left field, probably always will, even if I played left field for six or eight more years."

Gardner was in center field the last time the Yankees played a "real" game, replacing the slumping Granderson in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in October against the Detroit Tigers.

Among Girardi's concerns about the move are Granderson's ability to adjust to the different angle of the ball coming off the bat to a left fielder -- he has started just three games in left, all in 2005 as a Tiger -- and whether the position shift will affect either man at the plate. Granderson has been the Yankees' leading home run hitter the past two seasons, with 41 in 2011 and 43 last year.

"It's still a legit concern, how it affects him at the plate, how it affects his game," Girardi said of Granderson. "You know, if there's too much thought process into just going out to play left field, so that's something I'll think about."

Although Granderson dutifully took his position in left field during batting practice, he never had a ball hit to him. During the session, he, Gardner and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki took turns rotating positions like a human game of three-card monte.

First, Granderson moved to center and stood next to Gardner as Ichiro moved to left. Then, Granderson moved to right and Ichiro to center. They finished up the way many expected them to be positioned this year, with Gardner in left, Ichiro in right and Granderson in center.

It turned out to be a little game the players cooked up among themselves.

"We noticed a couple of [reporters] watching when we were out there," Gardner said, "so we tried to move around so you guys would think something really weird was going on."