The Yankees won for the first time in almost a week last night. And they did it with one of their most recently productive bats on the bench to start the game. With a left-handed starter on the mound, Joe elected to sit Ichiro Suzuki, probably for rest more than anything, and start Vernon Wells in right field. With Zoilo Almonte looking good in his Major League debut and solidifying his role as the starting left fielder, right field turned back into the L/R platoon the Yankees always envisioned it, for one night at least. With the way things worked out last night, Joe might want to consider going to that well more often.
Not even joking, I think last night might have been the first game all season in which both Wells and Ichiro had good games. Wells, still batting cleanup even though the stats and spray charts say no way, had 2 singles in 3 plate appearances against Scott Diamond before giving way to Ichiro in the 8th. The Twins went with right-handed Jared Burton that inning and Joe used the righty-righty matchup as the perfect reason to lift Wells and go with the lefty Ichiro, who set up the go-ahead rally in the inning with a bunt single. He came up again in the 9th and lined one off the pitcher that could have been another run-scoring hit. A 3-5 night from the right field position with a run scored, solid defense, and 2 hard-hit outs. I don’t know about you, but I can live with that.
What little value Wells has left offensively only comes out against left-handed pitching. He’s got a .295/.330/.419 split against them this season in 112 PA, almost 200 OPS points higher than his split against righties. Ichiro himself has actually been better against lefties this season (.810 OPS) than righties (.610), but that trend goes against his recent splits and career averages and could be heavily-influenced by a .358 BABIP. While the current numbers may support Ichiro playing every day, it does make sense for Joe to continue working this platoon. By playing Wells against lefties, Joe is able to maximize what he can get out of him and what he can get out of his short 3-man bench that features 2 more really bad bats. He’s also able to give Ichiro some regular rest for his 39-year-old body and hopefully spark a turnaround in his production against right-handers.
Perhaps most importantly, Joe gives himself the lefty bench bat that the Yankees desperately need right now by not starting Ichiro against lefties. Not only is their 3-man bench terrible, it’s all right-handed. Joe’s been unable to capitalize on the matchup game in the last week because he hasn’t been able to play it. The perfect situation came up last night – a newly-entered righty pitcher in a late-game RISP situation – and Joe jumped at the chance to play that L/R matchup. If he starts Ichiro every day, he never has that chance last night. And who knows how Ichiro would have handled his 4th PA of the night after already playing 7 innings in his 15th straight game?
For as wrong as the decisions to bring Ichiro back and add Wells on multi-year deals may have been, I’m willing to grant the Yankees some slack in the belief that they were always intending on platooning both of these guys in right field. Injuries negated that option early in the season and we’ve already seen the extended playing time sap Wells. Ichiro hasn’t been much of a production fiend anyway, but he’s had sparks of good play here and there. He’s also on pace for over 500 PA this year, a number I’m sure Joe didn’t want to see that high. Now that he’s got some stability at the other outfield corner, he can and should get back to platooning his 2 older players and stretching what he can get out of them for another few weeks.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)