David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - The company line tells us not to be alarmed by Mark Teixeira sitting again Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. Just residual soreness from last year's wrist surgery. Nothing to worry about.
And then we see Kelly Johnson doing his impression of a turnstile in the third inning, when he failed to hold on to Derek Jeter's wide throw in attempting to tag Allen Craig. The ball squirts free, and instead of inning over, the Cardinals use the opening to score three two-out runs in the eventual 6-0 win over the Yankees.
"I think that play could happen to just about anybody," Johnson said.
True. But it's more likely with Johnson at first base. Or Brendan Ryan. Or Brian Roberts. And now that Teixeira is complaining of wrist pain, these are the options the Yankees are looking at for the immediate future. Johnson made his 17th start at the position -- second only to Teixeira's 31 -- and we don't know how much more he'll need to be called on.
With Teixeira scheduled to see his wrist surgeon Thursday, and likely undergo an ultrasound test to check for structural damage during that visit, even the Yankees are unsure what to think. Combine that with Carlos Beltran's uncertain status as he hopes to avoid surgery for a bone spur in his elbow, and you're looking at two potentially iffy players for the months ahead. Beltran's rehab is being measured in increments so small that swapping a feather-light fungo bat for his regular model was described by manager Joe Girardi as progress.
When it comes to the health of these two players, and what the Yankees should expect for the rest of the year, this is beginning to feel like a legitimate concern. Even if Teixeira is able to avoid the DL, he's going to need more than the usual maintenance and there's no telling how Beltran will perform if he skips surgery. The longer they postpone it, the less chance they have of him returning this year. The recovery time is eight to 10 weeks.
This is no longer about either player getting better. It's a matter of Teixeira and Beltran being able to function with their condition. At the moment, Teixeira's wrist is causing enough discomfort to keep him out of the lineup. For Beltran, the spur in his elbow won't magically disappear, and until it is removed -- either in June or November -- playing could depend on his pain tolerance.
"It's part of being an athlete," Teixeira said before last night's game. "It is what it is."
And that's not so great for the Yankees, who could wind up paying Teixeira and Beltran filet-mignon prices this season for hamburger production. In Teixeira's case, he's earning $22.5 million in Year Six of his eight-year, $180 million contract and was having a solid May -- six HRs, 19 RBIs in 23 games -- before the wrist began hurting on this trip.
Teixeira told us yesterday the soreness was anticipated coming off last year's surgery. But if this is an overuse injury as it appears to be, the problem then becomes preventing it from being a chronic issue during the next four months. Teixeira has been consulting with his doctor as often as twice a day since the pain surfaced.
"He's surprised I haven't had more flare-ups," Teixeira said.
But is that a good or bad thing? The Yankees would prefer none, and maybe this red flag is a signal of more trouble ahead. Either way, this got Girardi's attention.
Right now, it appears Beltran's condition is more problematic. His past three seasons of good health convinced the team he was worth the three-year, $45 million risk, but he's now on the shelf indefinitely.
Things could be worse. And the way Girardi sees it, he'll worry about the bad stuff when it gets here. It may be closer than he thinks.