Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who hit a grand slam on Wednesday night for his third home run of the season and second in three games, was the Yankees’ cleanup hitter on Thursday night against the Twins.
You don’t usually think of Kiner-Falefa as a No. 4 hitter. But in their doubleheader sweep on Wednesday, the cleanup batters were Ronald Guzman, who went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and hit into a big double play in extra innings in his first game of the season, and Oswaldo Cabrera, who has yet to hit a major league home run and ended the night with a .192 batting average.
But as we said, the Yankees won both games and went into Thursday with a four-game winning streak.
Manager Aaron Boone has had to cut and paste his lineup from one that you’d usually see at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Andrew Benintendi and DJ LeMahieu injured and Josh Donaldson on the paternity list.
The trend continued on Thursday. Marwin Gonzalez was the No. 5 hitter and first baseman. Miguel Andujar, who was batting .225 with no home runs, was the designated hitter.
Cabrera didn't start, but fellow rookies Estevan Florial (.111 average) and Oswald Peraza (first four big-league hits in the doubleheader) did against former Yankees righthander Sonny Gray.
Peraza started his third straight game at short with Kiner-Falefa over at third in the absence of Donaldson. Kiner-Falefa hadn’t played third base since he won the AL Gold Glove there in the shortened 2020 season for Texas. It came back to him fast as he played 21 innings at the position on Wednesday as Game 1 went 12 innings and the nightcap was a regulation nine.
Kiner-Falefa, who had a game-tying single in the 12th before Cabrera snapped an 0-for-25 skid with a walk-off single in the Yankees’ 5-4 victory in the opener, said he didn’t practice at third before the doubleheader because he didn’t want to tire himself out before having to play two games.
“I just figured, as much work as I put in at shortstop, it’s like the one position if you play you can move around,” he said. “From third base to shortstop was a lot harder in the beginning. I feel like I’ve definitely got shortstop down – still have a lot of work to do there – but just putting in the work there makes it easier moving positions.”
Said Boone: “I like him in the field with a glove on [anywhere]. He’s an outstanding athlete. I thought he played really well over there . . . Obviously, really impactful offensively. Huge hit to tie the game in extra innings in the first game and then the homer in the second game. And just the ‘do whatever it takes’ [attitude] – wants to help us win. Whatever that is, he’s been up the task.”
Kiner-Falefa homered on Labor Day, too, against the Twins, the team which traded him to the Yankees in the offseason one day after acquiring him from Texas.
“It just happened to be against them,” Kiner-Falefa said. “But it definitely felt good.”
Boone told Kiner-Falefa on Sept. 2 that he might end up losing some playing time to Peraza and Cabrera as the Yankees called up both natural shortstops in recent weeks. Cabrera has played mostly rightfield lately, and has delivered five outfield assists in his first 12 games there.
Peraza has shown a smooth glove at short. When Donaldson returns – perhaps on Saturday – Boone will have a decision to make about playing time.
One thing is clear: The Yankees have gotten a boost from youngsters such as Cabrera and Peraza. Kiner-Falefa is on board with that, even if it costs him at-bats.
“They’re great players,” he said. “It’s nice to have [them] around. We need everyone better. Everyone’s pushing each other and I think that healthy competition for playing time is really helpful.”