Jorge Posada tweaked his already-tender right hamstring while sliding into second base in the sixth inning of last night’s game. He had an MRI this morning, which revealed a Grad 2 strain, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list soon after. He’s likely to miss a month if not more. The Yankees had hoped to get an offensive boost with Alex Rodriguez’s return from hip surgery, likely on Friday, but with Posada out, Rodriguez’s return will merely return the Yankees to the status quo, as Rodriguez will be hard pressed to out perform the .312/.402/.584 line Posada has put up thus far this season.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the status quo is pretty darn good. Entering tonight’s game, the Yankees are tied with the Texas Rangers for the second most runs scored per game in the American League behind the overachieving Blue Jays. The Yankees’ 5.84 R/G is nearly a run better than their mark from 2008 (4.87 R/G, seventh in the AL), and is evenly split between home (5.8 R/G) and the road (5.87 R/G). Also, Rodriguez is going to be in the lineup more often than Posada, who had been on pace for 115 games between catcher and DH.
It’s still bad news, but it’s not as devastating as Posada’s shoulder injury was last year because of the additions of Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, and the rebounds of Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui and, thus far, Melky Cabrera. It’s also good news that we’re talking about a fairly routine hamstring injury and not a recurrence of Posada’s shoulder woes.
Still, losing Posada for any length of time creates a hole in the lineup. Jose Molina’s .257/.333/.343 line looks robust next to his 2008 performance (.216/.263/.313), but it’s simply replacement level rather than well below and falls short of what the Yankees had been getting from Ramiro Peña (.313/.371/.344), though the bottom would surely to fall out on Peña were he to stay in the lineup much longer.
Francisco Cervelli has been called up from Double-A to take Molina’s spot on the bench. After losing most of last year to a broken arm, Cervelli now looks not unlike the catcher-version of Peña. He’s a strong defender, easily major league quality, with little to recommend him at the plate other than a good batting eye. Cervelli looked overmatched at the plate in his very brief September call-up last year, while playing for Italy in the WBC this March, and in spring training after Italy’s elimination from the tournament. The sample size is minuscule, of course, but the competition in each was something less than what he’s likely to see in the majors in May, and he went a combined 4-for-25 (.160) with just one extra base hit and, despite that good batting eye, just one walk across those three appearances. Thus far this year, he’s hitting just .190/.266/.310 for the Trenton Thunder.
Cervelli’s here because the top catcher at Triple-A Scranton, Chris Stewart, is hitting .178/.275/.200 and isn’t nearly as good behind the plate as Cervelli. Kevin Cash, who was supposed to be the third-string catcher, is on the DL with a shoulder injury of his own. I’m not particularly worried about the Yankees “rushing” the 23-year-old Cervelli because Jesus Montero is now just a level behind him at High-A Tampa and is crushing the ball. Montero’s defense is far from major-league-ready, if it ever well be, but he’s nipping at Cervelli’s heals. Peña has handled the jump to the majors wonderfully. Cervelli, who has a veteran disposition—despite his lack of production he was a clubhouse leader on Team Italy—seems as likely as anyone to do likewise.
One hidden aspect of Posada’s DL stay is that it will make the loss of Xavier Nady sting all the more. The Yankees haven’t suffered in right field since Nady’s injury because Nick Swisher has been on fire, hitting .300/.434/.688 on the season. Where the Yankees have missed Nady is in their limited pinch-hitting options late in close games. A three-man bench of Jose Molina, Angel Berroa, and Brett Gardner doesn’t offer Joe Girardi much in terms of late-game pop. That wouldn’t have mattered as much with both Rodriguez and Posada in the lineup, but with the hole at third moving to catcher, the Yankees will continue to long after a bench bat. All the more reason for them to use Rodriguez’s return as an excuse to designate Angel Berroa for assignment and purchase the contract of non-roster slugger Shelley Duncan, who is now hitting .347/.421/.716 with ten jacks for Scranton.
As for tonight’s game, the Yankees are still looking for their first win of the season against Boston. They send Joba Chamberlain to the mound looking to build off his strong seven innings in Detroit. The Red Sox counter with Josh Beckett, who only seems to get worse with every start. After seven dominant innings against the Rays in his first start of the regular season, Beckett has posted a 9.14 ERA over his last four, most recently allowing seven runs in 4 2/3 innings against those same Rays. When the Yankees faced him at Fenway, Beckett coughed up eight runs in five innings. Here’s hoping for more of that tonight.