Brett Gardner said he is disappointed in Joe Girardi’s decision but doesn’t have a problem with it.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I don’t want to start Opening Day, because obviously I do,” Gardner said late Monday morning. “But I understand where Joe is coming from and respect his decision.”
Girardi informed the leftfielder over the weekend that, come Monday’s season opener, he would be on the bench against Astros star lefthander Dallas Keuchel in favor of the righthanded-hitting Aaron Hicks.
Monday’s postponement because of rain — it will be made up at 1:05 p.m. Tuesday — will not change Gardner’s fate against Keuchel, who will be opposed by Masahiro Tanaka.
“We didn’t have a lot of success against him last year,” Girardi said of Keuchel, “so I thought I’d try something different, which is really what it came down to.”
Keuchel did not give up a run in 16 innings against the Yankees during the regular season last year, allowing nine hits and a walk and striking out 21. He matched that in the American League wild-card game at the Stadium, throwing six scoreless innings in the Astros’ 3-0 victory. He allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked one.
Girardi chose to replace lefthanded-hitting centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury with righthanded-hitting Chris Young in the wild-card game. Gardner got the start and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
“If I was better against lefties, if I had had a better game against him in the wild-card game, if I had looked a little better against him, we wouldn’t be here talking about it,” Gardner said. “It’s on me. If I want to play every single day and not come out of the lineup, play a little better.”
Gardner certainly isn’t alone as a lefty batter who has struggled against Keuchel. In going 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA and capturing the AL Cy Young Award last season, Keuchel limited lefthanded hitters to a .177 batting average, .201 on-base percentage and .461 slugging percentage.
It should be pointed out that righthanded hitters didn’t exactly tear it up against Keuchel, producing a .227/.277/.328 slash line. Hicks is 2-for-5 with a homer in his career against Keuchel, a small sample size to be sure, but he does have a .272/.360/.447 career slash line against lefties compared with .206/.284/.311 vs. righthanders.
The Yankees traded backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins last November for the 26-year-old Hicks, an athletic outfielder whom they saw as an upgrade over Young.
“This is the reason we traded for Hicks,” Girardi said. “On days we face lefties, Ells or Gardy’s probably going to get a day off. It’s why we went and got him.”
Still, Girardi said it was a difficult discussion to have with the 32-year-old Gardner, who has spent his entire career in pinstripes after he was drafted by the Yankees in 2005.
“If it’s the second day of the season, it’s not a big deal,” Girardi said. “But because it’s Opening Day and what Gardy’s meant to this organization, it is a big deal and I feel for him.”