As a Yankee fan, September is the month where you watch your team rest players after clinching a playoff spot, or exhaust starters to wear down their magic number. Not often do we receive beneficial reinforcements with just a little over a week left in the regular season. The Yankees have been no stranger to injuries this year, and it would appear that many of their own starters are playing through discomfort, so any sort of playable relief is appreciated. It looks like the team will be reunited with Brett Gardner, and introduced to David Aardsma by the time this series is over.
When he underwent elbow surgery in late July, it looked like Gardner wouldn’t return for the remainder of the season. The front office made the move to replace him with Ichiro Suzuki immediately, who’s helped the team out tremendously with his defense, speed, and hitting. Just last week the word was that Gardner might return to act as a defensive replacement and for late-inning pinch-running situations. Things seemed to have changed though, Gardner didn’t return as fast as we expected, and just yesterday he moved on from hitting soft toss to taking live batting practice.
“I feel great,” said Gardner. “I have hit in the cages this week. Soft toss. And once I hit live on the field, I think I’ll be able to show that I’m 100 percent and ready to play. My body feels like it’s March. I’m excited to get back on the field and help any way I can.”
Right now, we’re still under the assumption that he’ll be used lightly on the field and the base paths, but going by his optimism, there seems to be a chance that he can start a few games in the next week, and possibly make a full return for the postseason. Girardi seems to feel that he’ll make his way on to the roster before the team ships off to Toronto, and after that they’ll have two series to test out the left fielder.
Adding Gardner to an outfield already manned by Curtis Granderson in center and Ichiro Suzuki in right, should give the team one of the best outfield defenses in the game. It would also allow Nick Swisher to remain at first base, while Mark Teixeira (hopefully) makes his return next week as the designated hitter. This prevents guys like Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce from being forced into the lineup, as well as Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones from seeing any playing time in the outfield. It’ll be a huge boost defensively and offensively.
Then we have a new bullpen arm to examine. For the first time in two years, David Aardsma will be on an active major league roster tomorrow. His slow return from Tommy John surgery has kept the one time closer at work in the lower levels of the organization.
In 2009 and 2010, Aardsma collected 69 saves for the Mariners, and earned a 2.90 ERA, a 9.6 K/9, a 4.4 BB/9, and a 6.1 H/9. He has a large arsenal of pitches that include a two-seam fastball, a changeup, a slider, a splitter, and a curveball, but he earns his money with the four-seam fastball. Between 2009 and 2010, he threw the pitch 83% of the time, and the heavy rising action resulted in a 10.7% whiff rate.
As good as the four-seam is, it primarily draws fly balls, which is why he has such a low H/9. The homerun rate hasn’t been a problem over his career, but moving from Safeco Field to Yankee Stadium could be a tough transition for a flyball pitcher. Also, like we saw from Joba Chamberlain, players returning from Tommy John surgery can return with initial command problems. Aardsma never sported dominant control over his career, so there is certainly reason to worry about what he’ll look like against patient hitters.
That said, the Yankees bullpen has been severely overworked the last couple of weeks. While winning close games and extra inning walkoffs is nice, guys like Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Boone Logan have been exhausted. Chamberlain has slowly returned into a dominant late inning reliever, but it would be nice to have another guy that can handle the middle innings.
As I also mentioned, Mark Teixeira will likely return soon, although nothing is official yet. Considering the type of defense and offense him and Gardner could provide in just a week, and the extra length Aardsma could add to this bullpen, the team could look very different approaching the playoffs. As bad as things looked in the beginning of September, you have to give management credit for the team being healthy at the right time. The Yankees should be as strong as ever come October.