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Veterans playing large role in Yankees’ fast start this season

Chase Headley #12 of the New York Yankees

Chase Headley #12 of the New York Yankees singles during the fifth inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, April 16, 2017. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

PITTSBURGH — Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman said it once, twice, 20 times during spring training.

For all the focus and expectations surrounding the young players, for the Yankees to have any chance to contend this season, there would have to be production from the older set, too.

“The veterans have to do their jobs,” Girardi said in one interview as spring training broke. “If they do their jobs, we’re going to be good.”

Fifteen games into the season, the Yankees have been that. And, lo and behold, contributions from a handful of veterans have played a sizable role.

“They’ve certainly been what we wanted and hoped and have definitely impacted the win column,” Cashman said by phone Thursday.

Leading the way offensively has been Chase Headley, whom many Yankees fans would just as soon have seen traded in the offseason. But as the 10-5 Yankees start a six-game trip Friday night against the Pirates at PNC Park, Headley has a .396/.500/.646 slash line, three homers and 10 walks, second-best on the team.

Last April Headley had a .150/.268/.150 slash line, a month Cashman described as “historically horrific” but not close to representative of the player he had been in his career.

But in the wake of the injury to Gary Sanchez, out since April 8 with a right brachialis strain, and Greg Bird’s prolonged slump to start the year, Headley isn’t the only veteran who has allowed the Yankees to flourish.

Jacoby Ellsbury, like Headley far from a fan favorite entering the season, is hitting .302 with a .351 on-base percentage. Aaron Hicks — ditto when it comes to fan love — has four homers, second-most on the team, and nine RBIs and has played all three outfield positions.

Starlin Castro, who surprised with his 21 homers last season, is off to a good start, hitting .368/.410/.579 with three homers and 10 RBIs.

Even catcher Austin Romine, thrust into everyday duty because of the Sanchez injury, is holding his own at the plate. Romine, long considered a good defender but held back by his bat, is hitting .321 with a .394 on-base percentage.

“I felt like we hit for a lot more power in spring training,” Girardi said after his club hit four homers in Wednesday night’s 9-1 victory over the White Sox, giving them an American League-leading 22. “I felt we were going to be a different club and we had the ability to score runs and we had the ability to hit more home runs than we have in the past. So far that’s showed up, and you want that to continue.”

Same goes for the work of the starting rotation.

The group was filled with question marks leaving spring training, in large part because of the uncertainty about CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. The Yankees started 1-4, but the starting pitchers helped lead the recent 8-1 homestand and have a combined 2.69 ERA in their last 10 starts.

“It’s a tough grind to be a consistent performer in the major leagues,” Cashman said, speaking of the overall makeup of the team. “We have guys who have done it and are capable of doing it. If they collectively come together, we could be a scary team.”

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