TAMPA, Fla. — During his spring training kickoff news conference on Feb. 14, Joe Girardi said splitting up Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury atop the order was something he would consider.
But when the spring games started, the pair, when in the lineup together, hit 1-2.
That changed Tuesday night, somewhat dramatically.
In a lineup Girardi said “very well could” be what he sends out for Sunday’s season opener in St. Petersburg against the Rays, Brett Gardner hit first, followed by Gary Sanchez hitting second, Greg Bird in the three-hole, Matt Holliday at cleanup and, most headline-grabbing, Jacoby Ellsbury fifth.
“Something we’re going to look at,” Girardi said before the game against the Tigers, a 6-3 loss that dropped the Yankees spring record to a still MLB-best 22-8. “I’ve said all along, I’ve thought about breaking up the lefties [Gardner and Ellsbury]. We’re going to take a look at it, see what we think.”
Now, it’s Gardner (a lefty), followed by Sanchez (a righty), Bird (lefty), Holliday (righty) and Ellsbury (lefty).
“It gets righthanders between all of our lefthanders so it makes it harder to navigate through our lineup,” Girardi said.
He added: “It’s not like this came out of the blue. We’ve been thinking about it.”
The quintet combined to go 2-for-12 Tuesday night with four walks and a run (Sanchez and Holliday had the hits).
Ellsbury far and away has the biggest adjustment to make. The 33-year-old has hit at every position in the batting order in his career but fifth least of all (he’s 0-for-2 with a walk in five games, no starts). Conversely, he’s hit leadoff in 826 of the 1,123 major-league games.
“I talked to him about it and he seemed . . . he’s all in,” Girardi said.
As for picking Ellsbury to hit fifth rather than Gardner, Girardi said: “I think Ells is a guy who’s been really good in those RBI situations. Ells has got some pop in his bat, you also almost have another leadoff guy in the middle of the order, too.”
Ellsbury, entering the fourth year of a seven-year, $153-million deal, has been mostly a disappointment the first three years of his Yankees contract, producing a .264/.326/.382 slash line. His career high in homers came in 2011 when he hit 32 for the Red Sox, but the most he’s hit in a season since then was the 16 he hit in 2014, Ellsbury’s first year in pinstripes.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a big home run guy to be a productive guy,” Girardi said. “I’m not asking him to change . . . do we have a traditional five hitter? Maybe not, but we have a couple of guys who can really run, so you do things a little bit different.”
Sanchez, 24, has hit second a handful of times this spring. “I just felt like the way he’s swinging the bat, I want to get him and Greg Bird up as quick as possible,” Girardi said.
Sanchez said where he hits in the order “doesn’t matter” to him. “The focus is to be ready wherever you are in the lineup,” he said through his translator. “It’s the same approach no matter where you are.”
Tuesday night Aaron Hicks hit eighth and started in right — ahead of Aaron Judge — and Ronald Torreyes batted ninth and started at short. Girardi indicated Torreyes will be at short for the opener but not to jump to conclusions on rightfield just yet.
“That competition’s really close,” Girardi said beforehand of Hicks and Judge.
Hicks went 0-for-2. Judge, a late-inning sub, went 1-for-2, including a bomb of a home run to center, his third blast this spring.
“That’s probably as hard a ball I’ve seen hit this spring, of anyone,” Girardi said.
Still, of the rightfield job, he said: “We haven’t made any decisions.”
The Yankees’ starting lineup for Tuesday night’s exhibition game that probably will take the field on Opening Day against Tampa Bay:
Brett Gardner LF
Gary Sanchez C
Greg Bird 1B
Matt Holliday DH
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Starlin Castro 2B
Chase Headley 3B
Aaron Hicks RF
Ronald Torreyes SS
Masahiro Tanaka RHP