On primary night in New York, it was fitting that the Oakland A’s arrived at Yankee Stadium last night with a starting catcher named Stephen Vogt.
(It’s pronounced “Vote.” Here’s hoping his nickname is “Early and Often.”)
With lefthander Eric Surkamp starting for Oakland, Joe Girardi checked the box for Brett Gardner to start over Jacoby Ellsbury as the lefthanded-hitting outfielder who got the night off so Aaron Hicks could start.
It wasn’t a tough choice. Gardner came in with seven hits in his last 12 at-bats. Ellsbury had one hit in his last 12 at-bats.
Ellsbury, who couldn’t get elected dogcatcher by Yankees fans right now, kept his .213 average and oddly deteriorating centerfield defense on the bench until he pinch ran for Chase Headley in the ninth inning of a tie game in what became a 3-2 Yankees loss in 11 innings.
Ellsbury was thrown out stealing. He remained in the game as it went to extra innings — replacing Gardner in center after Gardner made the last out of the ninth.
Ellsbury did not bat. He also did not appear to answer questions after the game.
Girardi said he has not lost confidence in Ellsbury. In fact, he was surprised by the question.
“No. Why?” Girardi said. “He’s played every day. He’s played against every lefthander. I said that I was going to rotate them and put Gardy in there tonight. That’s all.”
It’s not as if Ellsbury needed a rest. The Yankees were off Monday. Girardi just went with the hot hand in the starting lineup. It was the same decision he made in last year’s wild-card game when he sat Ellsbury for Chris Young against Houston lefthander Dallas Keuchel.
It’s Year Three of the seven-year, $153-million Ellsbury contract. The polls are not closed yet, but it doesn’t look as if there is any reason to hold space in Monument Park for this free-agent signing.
Ellsbury came from Boston with a reputation for being somewhat brittle, but also for being a dynamic player when healthy. He has lived up to the first part. The dynamism hasn’t been as easy to spot in the now 32-year-old.
Girardi also continued his recent pattern of rearranging the deck chairs of the Yankees lineup with Starlin Castro moved up to second and Alex Rodriguez fifth.
“Some of it, you’re trying to get guys going,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you might drop a guy just to give him, in a sense, a different view as opposed to being near the top. Maybe they put too much pressure on themselves. Maybe a guy’s swinging the bat well and you move them up. I’ve always talked about, you want a consistent lineup, but I don’t think you can be so rigid that you won’t change it.”
Headley, who was benched on Sunday — sorry, “rested” — returned and went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .200.
Headley and Ellsbury have a couple of things in common. The first is their contracts: Think the Yankees would like a do-over on Ellsbury’s deal? How about the decision to re-sign Headley to a four-year, $52-million contract after the 2014 season?
The second is both players have power seasons on their resumes that are complete outliers. In 2011, Ellsbury hit 32 homers for the Red Sox. In his seven other seasons since becoming a regular in 2008, he has averaged 7½.
Headley hit 31 homers and led the NL with 115 RBIs in 2012 with San Diego. He’s never hit more than 13 homers in any other season.
On Sunday, Headley told Newsday’s Steven Marcus of his 31-homer season: “Do I think I’m going to do that every year now? No, I don’t think that. But I do think I’m somewhere in the middle of where I was then and where I am now.’’
Headley has to believe in himself. But when you’re benched — sorry, “rested” — for the immortal Ronald Torreyes, as Headley has been twice this season, it sounds as if your manager has some doubts.
The contracts mean Ellsbury and Headley are not getting traded and are not going to be bench guys. Maybe they’ll both be the players the Yankees thought they were signing. The early returns on that have not been positive, though.