A new role for Chris Stewart -- a chance to be a regular catcher

Chris Stewart of the New York Yankees tags

Chris Stewart of the New York Yankees tags out Jeff Mathis of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Aug. 29, 2012) (Credit: Getty)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Chris Stewart is 31 years old and has been in the big leagues for at least parts of six seasons.

He's seen a bit of everything. Except what's staring him in the face this spring training with the Yankees: a real shot to win a starting job.

"It's kind of a new chapter for me,'' Stewart said this past week. "Not really used to going in and having a shot to be the starter, so I'm welcoming it.''

Barring any more acquisitions -- something that can't be ruled out, as Stewart, acquired by the Yankees the day camp broke last season, well knows -- manager Joe Girardi will pick from Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine.

Stewart, who played in 55 games last season, would seem to have the edge. Cervelli, quite unhappily, found himself demoted to Triple-A when the Yankees completed a deal for Stewart the final day of spring training last year. Cervelli, who turns 27 March 6, spent the season in the minors before appearing in only three games as a September call-up.

As of now, the Yankees' spring training evaluation of Cervelli isn't likely to be impacted by his recent link to the anti-aging clinic in South Florida that is under investigation by federal authorities and MLB.

General manager Brian Cashman said early in the offseason that Romine is likely to start the season in the minors so he can play every day. But that could be a way to take pressure off the prospect, for whom the Yankees still have high hopes. A standout spring training by Romine, 24, could land him the job.

Regardless, in looking at the trio, there are these incontrovertible truths: Defense shouldn't be an issue and offense will be, which Cashman readily admits.

"They're defensive-oriented players,'' Cashman said. "They can handle a pitching staff, stop a running game. Offensively they're limited, but the rest of the club can make up for that. In terms of the run prevention side of it, we're taking care of it.''

When the Yankees completed the deal with the Giants for Stewart, a National League scout characterized the catcher as "a super defender who can't hit a lick.''

Stewart, a career .217 hitter with a .281 OBP, was a bit better than those numbers last season, hitting .241 with a .292 OBP.

"I'm not going to really blame it on anything,'' Stewart said when asked if his offense might improve with more regular at-bats than the sporadic ones that come with being a backup.

"Obviously, in terms of rhythm, playing consistently and seeing consistent pitches, you're going to feel more comfortable out there. I try and do everything I can between my starts to prepare myself as if I was starting every single day.''

But Stewart also knows that if he is the starter, he's not going to be yanked by Girardi if he's not producing at the plate -- as long as he's producing behind it.

"I can still win ballgames without getting a base hit,'' Stewart said. "I take care of the pitching staff. If I'm back there and our pitcher doesn't give up any runs, we have a pretty good shot to win that ballgame.

"So I'm not going to say it doesn't really matter what I do at the plate. Obviously, I'm trying to be the best hitter I can be. But if I'm doing the job behind the plate, I know my goal going into that game has been taken care of. Everything else is extra.''

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