BALTIMORE — A game Joe Girardi all but declared a must-win beforehand did not include the Yankees’ $153-million centerfielder.
Jacoby Ellsbury was not in the starting lineup Sunday, replaced in centerfield by Brett Gardner, the only lefthanded hitter Girardi had in the lineup against lefthander Wade Miley.
Rob Refsnyder started in leftfield and went 1-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored in the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over the Orioles. Aaron Judge, who went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts — which gave him 23 strikeouts in his last 36 at-bats — started in rightfield.
“If you’re going to give [Ellsbury] a day off, it’s against the lefthander, and we’re facing a lot of righthanders as we move forward,” Girardi said before Sunday’s game. “And he’s struggled against lefthanders this year, too. I’m trying to find as much offense as I can.”
Ellsbury, who pinch hit for Refsnyder in the seventh inning and grounded into a double play (he went 0-for-2 with two groundouts), entered the day with a .265/.327/.369 slash line, six homers and 46 RBIs. Against lefties, he had a .239/.277/.326 slash line, one homer and 11 RBIs.
The Yankees signed Ellsbury to a seven-year deal before the 2014 season to be the kind of top-of-the lineup threat he was with the Red Sox. He stole a league-high 70 bases in 2009 (he swiped a league-leading 52 in 2013) and had 32 homers and 105 RBIs in 2011.
The contract was widely criticized at the time, and not yet three full years into it, that criticism has only intensified. Ellsbury has only sporadically resembled that player, particularly on the bases.
He stole 39 bases in his first season with the Yankees and 21 in an injury-plagued 2015. He has 18 steals this season, but only one in his last 39 games.
Not a great sign for a player who turns 33 next Sunday and who, after this season, has four years left on his deal.
“I still think he’s going to be a good base-stealer, I do,” Girardi said.
Girardi said Ellsbury always has the “green light” to go, but it’s ultimately up to the player.
Does he sometimes wonder why Ellsbury doesn’t try to steal more often?
“It’s an experienced baserunner, it’s an experienced base- stealer, and sometimes it has to do with how they feel physically,” Girardi said. “And sometimes they just don’t feel well enough to go, but we still have him in the lineup to play.”
Ellsbury finished the six-game trip 6-for-22 with three walks, and Girardi said that even with his diminished base-stealing capacity, he still does what is expected out of a top-of-the-order batter.
“I think the most important thing is getting on base,” Girardi said. “His speed is what it is, and you want guys in front of your boppers to get on base. That’s the big thing.”