The signs were there, but you had to really look for them before Wednesday night’s game.
After, it appeared clear as day. Certainly, Brett Gardner’s batting average or slugging percentage didn’t indicate he was on his way to breaking out of his slump. But there’s proof, Aaron Boone said before the game, that his leadoff hitter was about to turn it around — enough proof that Boone said he had no intention of moving Gardner down in the lineup, at least not yet.
And though Boone is neither prognosticator nor prophet, on Wednesday, it sure did look like he knew how to read the signs.
Gardner made his manager look smart during the Yankees’ 9-6 win over the Red Sox, hitting the go-ahead two-run triple in the eighth, doubling and coming around to score in the first inning, and hitting another double to spark a three-run third. And though one game isn’t going to improve his slash line all that much — a ghastly .198/.320/.248 going into Wednesday — it does make those indications of improvement a lot more visible.
“Our internal numbers . . . signs point to eventually he’s going to get rolling,” Boone said when asked to explain his faith in Gardner before the game, pointing specifically to exit velocity and walk rates.
After the game, Boone, who was proved right, expanded further.
“I feel like he’s been a little bit unlucky,” he said. “He was able to get in some good counts and put some aggressive swings in the strike zone and drive some balls today . . . He sets the tone for us, just his approach, the way he leads guys, the at bats that he’s having even when he’s not rolling.”
“He’s so tough-minded that he continues to grind away regardless.”
Gardner’s BABIP is .256, about as low as it’s ever been in his career, meaning that probability owes him at least a few hits. His walk rate was 13.1 percent, and though that’s only through 150 plate appearances, it’s still a little over three percentage points better than his career average. He’s hitting the ball hard, too, on average: According to FanGraphs, 28.7 percent of the balls off Gardner’s bat could be classified as hard hit, compared to a career average of 24.1.
But all that means nothing if it doesn’t translate to hits and runs, and though Gardner knows that as well as anyone, he’s managed not to panic. He recalled standing next to Alex Rodriguez after A-Rod went 0-for-4; the good thing, Rodriguez told the media then, was that he’d have another chance tomorrow. “That stuck with me,” Gardner said.
“I haven’t felt completely lost,” he said. “I know the numbers haven’t been there and the hits haven’t been there, but I feel like, for the most part, I’ve been trying to put together good at bats and seeing pitchers, making pitchers work. I just haven’t been getting the results. Hopefully, tonight was the start of something good.”
The signs say it just might be.