David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Stephen Drew was back on the bench Tuesday night. And no, Joe Girardi said, there was nothing physically wrong with the player who is supposed to be the Yankees' starting second baseman.
That was the plan anyway when Brian Cashman acquired Drew in the extremely rare trade with the Red Sox minutes before the nonwaiver deadline on July 31. Sending Kelly Johnson to Boston wasn't much to surrender. Apparently neither was taking on roughly $3 million in salary for what amounted to a throw at the craps table for Cashman.
Best case, Drew adjusts well to second base -- a position he hadn't played since high school -- and finally shakes off the rust at the plate that landed him in the Fenway doghouse. Worst case? Well, that's pretty much what the Yankees have now, with Drew not hitting enough to remain in the lineup.
Let's just say the two-month audition to succeed Derek Jeter next year isn't going so great. Drew isn't even a good replacement for Brian Roberts.
The Yankees are running out of time, and Girardi can't afford to be patient. Their best lineup now has Martin Prado at second base, where he was Tuesday night, and Ichiro Suzuki in rightfield. We know it's tough to point fingers with an offense that's been underperforming for most of this season. But this is turning out to be a lost year for Drew, and it's not just a lousy 15 games (.157/.204/.235) since the trade.
Drew's been on a downward spiral from the jump, hitting .170/.241/.302 in 54 games divided between the two teams. The Yankees can cover for that futility to some degree by going with Prado at second now that Carlos Beltran is capable of playing the outfield again.
But it's not like the Yankees are swimming in DHs, either. That configuration leaves Drew, Ichiro, Francisco Cervelli and Brendan Ryan with whom to mix and match. Which is why Girardi is stuck with few choices beyond using Ichiro in right, Beltran at DH and Prado at second.
So Prado made his third start there in four games and hit a tying two-run double in the sixth. Prado wasn't exactly raking himself before Tuesday night -- hitting .200 with a pair of homers as a Yankee -- but his overall .263/.309/.369 slash line in 121 games this season makes him look like Babe Ruth compared with Drew.
"Yeah, it's something that we will look at," Girardi said. "We feel that we have a number of infielders that we can move around and put them in positions to be successful. Prado gives us a lot of flexibility."
Sure. The flexibility to use him at second, where Prado has appeared in 247 games over the course of his nine-year career. And for the Yankees' purposes, in trying to stay afloat for the next six weeks, that's fine. As for the other infielders Girardi suggested he could "move around," that sounds like a stretch.
The manager has no intention of messing with Jeter, who has been a DH only six times this season. At the corners, Chase Headley and Mark Teixeira have to be in the lineup as much as humanly possible. But until the rosters expand in another 11 days, Girardi's only decisions are whether to use Beltran in right or DH and who needs a breather behind the plate.
Brian McCann's two-run homer Tuesday night had to make Girardi feel better about his catcher's return from the concussion-related DL stint. The Yankees are going to need more of that if they're going to rally for a playoff spot. A lot more. But there's no telling where Girardi will get it from.
For now, Prado is as good a candidate as any. And way better than Drew.