TAMPA, Fla. — Which everyday player can the Yankees least afford to lose for a long stretch? There is no shortage of candidates, but a name you’d get to sooner rather than later returned to the lineup Sunday after a week away.
Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who was hit on the right wrist by Julio Teheran’s 90-mph fastball March 19, went 0-for-3 in a 5-2 loss to the Twins at Steinbrenner Field. He also made a diving catch, which undoubtedly had the Yankees holding their breath.
It was the kind of play that could have caused another of the fluke injuries that have interrupted Ellsbury’s career. “Seems like things like that happen, but he’s used to making that play,” Joe Girardi said.
Ellsbury never was the same last season after missing 43 games from May 20-July 7 with a sprained right knee, an injury that occurred on a swing in a game May 19. But he was no worse for wear after his diving catch of Juan Centeno’s soft liner in the fifth inning.
“I didn’t want to dive, but you have to make the play, obviously,” Ellsbury said with a smile. “I wasn’t thinking about [the wrist] on the dive. If you don’t need to dive, I’d rather not, but I do in that situation. But I was pleased with everything.”
Ellsbury said “there’s still bruising and a little swelling” in the wrist, but he and Girardi said the plan is for him to be in the lineup again tonight, the surest sign his first game back went well.
“Felt good, at-bats felt good,” Ellsbury said. “I felt like I could do everything I needed to do.”
His importance to the Yankees cannot be overstated. Before he got hurt last year, Ellsbury was on track to have one of his best seasons, leading the Yankees in average (.324), on-base percentage (.412) and stolen bases (14). With Ellsbury leading off and Brett Gardner following, the Yankees had a speedy duo at the top of the order that gave opponents fits and provided plenty of RBI opportunities to the middle of the order.
But after returning July 8, Ellsbury produced a .224 batting average, .269 on-base percentage and .332 slugging percentage with seven steals. Although the Yankees finished second in runs in the American League (764), they faded offensively during the second half.
A healthy Ellsbury and Gardner will be counted on, and Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran again must be productive. For the first time this month, all were in the same lineup, with Chase Headley, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius completing the group the Yankees likely will send out against righthanders.
“This is the week you want your guys playing,” Girardi said. “If you’re going to miss some time, you don’t want them to miss this week. To have all nine of them out there today was nice.
“I definitely think it’s going to score runs. We scored runs last year, and I think we’re going to do it again.”