Joe Girardi still believes Brian McCann will come up big

The Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez runs the
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The Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Yankees in the sixth inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.(Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

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Jim Baumbach Newsday columnist Jim Baumbach

Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working ...

Brian McCann spent the majority of the Yankees' 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on the bench, a move designed to give his catcher's body a blow after a few long nights.

If Joe Girardi hoped the breather also would be good for McCann's light-hitting bat, the immediate dividends weren't there. As a pinch hitter in the ninth, McCann looked at strike three with the potential tying run on first.

This was not the script anyone could have envisioned for McCann's first season here.

It's easy to forget now, but when McCann signed here last winter he all but drooled over Yankee Stadium's rightfield dimensions, calling his new home "a perfect fit for me." Yet halfway through his first season in the Bronx, the word he's using to describe his play thus far is "horrible."

The other night McCann even referred to himself as "a big reason" for the Yankees' offensive woes, which have been glaring as they've lost 8 of 10 to fall to 41-41. Although it's hard to argue with him -- his slash line of .220 / .280 / .360 represents career lows in each category -- the last thing the Yankees want to hear is McCann publicly beating himself up for his rough first half in pinstripes.

"I don't think you forget how to hit in a year," Girardi said.

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Still, coming up with reasonable explanations for McCann's season-long struggles are getting tougher by the day, especially given how well his body of work seemed to fit here on paper.

Remember all the talk when the Yankees signed McCann about all the wonders this homer-happy stadium would do to his power numbers?

He was coming off a season in which he hit 20 home runs in just 356 at-bats in Atlanta and he had averaged 21 home runs in eight full seasons there. So the thought of him hitting 30 home runs here wasn't too far-fetched.

Yet now we're left to wonder whether the all-too-tempting rightfield porch is perhaps contributing to the pressure to turn his lost season around.

Is he trying too hard to take advantage of it? Or is he putting too much pressure on himself to live up to the Yankees' $85-million investment?

"At times I think he has been a little bit anxious and that might be the product of trying to make up four hits in one at-bat and trying to get his numbers where he thinks they should be," Girardi said. "But it's important he understands it's one at-bat at a time."

Girardi, doing his best as always to take a glass half-full look at McCann's season, repeatedly has pointed out that it hasn't been all bad for McCann.

Try making that case to McCann, whose frustration clearly is reaching its apex. (He didn't appear in the clubhouse while reporters were present after Tuesday night's game.)

Since June 4 he's hitting just .188 (15-for-80) with more than three times as many strikeouts (16) as extra-base hits (5).

He'll be back in the lineup this afternoon for his first start of the second half, and it's as good a time as any for a new beginning. Because if the Yankees are going to make a run, it's no secret McCann has to start hitting.

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The Yankees have scored 34 fewer runs than their opponents this season. Sooner or later that's going to be better reflected in their win-loss record.

History says the run differential statistic rarely lies over 162 games. But, as Girardi pointed out Tuesday, history also says McCann has a track record of being a productive hitter. That's a big reason why he still believes McCann's typical numbers -- think .800 OPS -- will be there at the end.

And if that's the case, he'll have to go on one mighty offensive run to get there. "He's going to be big for us," Girardi said.

And if he isn't? The Yankees don't want to go there.

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