Giancarlo Stanton returned to the Yankees’ lineup Tuesday night after his somewhat surprising absence from the series opener with the Astros. Everyone needs a game off now and again, but sitting Stanton against the world champs — the very king he was acquired to dethrone — seemed to be an extraordinary measure by Aaron Boone.
We can’t blame Boone for trying to protect Stanton, who was coming off a four-strikeout Sunday vs. the Angels, and keeping him away from the nearly invincible Justin Verlander was a smart move to shield his slugger’s drooping psyche from further harm. But the Yankees have invested more than $250-million in Stanton to do damage — not protect him from it — and he’s become strangely allergic to performing in the hitter-friendly Bronx.
Even after missing Verlander, life for Stanton didn’t get any easier Tuesday with Charlie Morton, another intimidating righthander, on the mound for the Astros. And Stanton again looked just as confused as he’s been at Yankee Stadium for most of this season.
In his first at-bat, Stanton awkwardly topped Morton’s opening pitch, a 98-mph fastball, and poked it to the right side as he fell down trying to get out of the box. In his exaggerated closed stance, Stanton’s back foot slipped, and he just about collapsed beside the plate.
Next time up, Stanton whiffed on four pitches, the last an 81-mph curveball. And in the fifth, he managed to make contact, but only for another weak grounder, slapping a 98-mph pitch toward first base. In the ninth he did manage a single on a soft grounder.
Morton is no picnic. We get that. And having a tough night against him is nothing to be ashamed of. Plenty of great hitters do. But once Morton left, and Stanton came up as the tying run with two outs in the seventh, he missed his shot at redemption. Stanton hacked at the first pitch from sidearmer Joe Smith, bouncing it back to the mound, and was hounded by boos again as he trotted a few steps toward first base.
Unfortunately, the jeers are all-too-familiar for Stanton, who had mostly suppressed them before Sunday’s Golden Sombrero (4 Ks) sparked them anew. As long as these kind of games keep multiplying for Stanton in the Bronx, the Yankees have to wonder if he’s digging himself some sort of psychological hole.
Stanton went 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts during the Angels’ series, and, thankfully, his hitless streak ended Tuesday night at 19 at-bats. His last home run was May 19 at Kansas City — 38 plate appearances ago — and his home/away splits are startling for a reigning MVP, even if he won the award in the National League.
In the Bronx, Stanton is hitting .195 (23-for-114) with six homers and 43 strikeouts over 29 games. Now compare that with .302 (26-for-86) on the road with 27 strikeouts and five homers. Could it be that Stanton is putting too much pressure on himself in front of the 40,000-plus crowds on a nightly basis? The Yankees, understandably, prefer to think of Stanton’s Bronx malaise as a passing phase.
“I just don’t think he’s gotten into that long stretch where he’s that MVP everyone wants to see,” Boone said before Tuesday’s game. “To me that’s about timing and rhythm. For as many ups and downs as he’s had so far, he’s been really productive for us.
Stanton wasn’t available Tuesday afternoon to discuss these trends, but he probably wouldn’t deny this isn’t living up to his MVP standards — at least at home. Last season, through the first 50 games for the Marlins, Stanton was hitting .284 with 14 home runs and a .906 OPS. This year? Overall, he was at .246 with 11 homers and an .800 OPS — numbers that are being dragged down by the Bronx.
One thing Stanton has done well is crush lefthanders (.370/.407/.852 with 7 HRs), which has led to speculation that maybe his ultra-closed stance — adopted last season in Miami — may be hindering him against righties.
“I certainly think it’s a little unorthodox and a challenge,” Boone said. “Last year when we saw him really close off, his season took off in an amazing way. He’s a smart guy, a diligent worker, a conscientious worker, so I know he’s always tinkering with things that allow him to flourish.”
For Stanton, that process seems to be ongoing, and he’s still searching for results in the Bronx.