SARASOTA, Fla. -- All of a sudden, Juan Rivera is a candidate to start in the outfield for the Yankees, which is a way of saying he has come full circle. The circle is as round as the wheels of the golf cart that once knocked him out of a starting job, all of a sudden.
Rivera, 34, and Matt Diaz, 34, were signed by the Yankees for insurance but have the opportunity for bigger roles, at least temporarily, now that Curtis Granderson is out with a broken forearm, an injury suffered when he was hit by a pitch Sunday.
"I don't think about that right now. I try to do my job, try to make the team," Rivera told reporters at his locker after he (like Diaz) went 0-for-3 in a 5-1 loss to the Orioles yesterday.
Rivera once made the team as a prodigy, called up from the minors in June 2002 and named the starting rightfielder. The assignment lasted two days. During pregame drills, he chased a fly into foul territory and cracked his kneecap on a cart carrying grounds crew equipment that was parked too close to the field.
Within a month, the Yankees traded for high-priced Raul Mondesi. Rivera came back to play in September and the postseason in 2002, and platooned in the 2003 World Series, but never became the Yankees' everyday rightfielder. He departed in a trade for Expos pitcher Javier Vazquez before the 2004 season.
"I am really happy to be back here. This is the first team to give me a chance to play in the majors and I never thought I would be back, so it would certainly be a very happy moment for me to get back to the Bronx," he said in Spanish to ESPN Deportes. "When I started my career with the Yankees, it was really unfortunate that I got injured, but . . . I just want to make the team. It would be a great moment for me in my career."
Because Granderson, who hit 43 homers in 2012, is expected back in early May, the Yankees are unlikely to invest heavily in a replacement. So anything is possible.
Diaz (pronounced DYE-azz) is mostly a career backup who won the Braves' starting leftfield job in 2008 before he crashed into a wall that May and injured a knee. Most recently, he is coming off serious thumb surgery after splinters from palm fronds tore into nerves. It happened when he was doing yard work at home in Florida.
"I now hire a lawn man, and I wear Kevlar or leather gloves," he said, mindful that he has a chance to make leftfield in the Bronx his yard for a while. "One of the reasons they bring guys like me into a camp like this is to add depth. If they choose to give me the job, of course, I'd love to do it. But there's 43 home runs we need to get back. That's my first thought. My son and I prayed for Grandy last night. We need him back."