When it comes to the precocious Gleyber Torres, the Yankees can find themselves straddling the line between continued development and competitive need, a tug-of-war that’s been easy to overlook because of his remarkable debut. On occasions such as Wednesday’s game against the King Felix-led Mariners, it becomes more tempting to lean on Torres, and Aaron Boone elevated him to the No. 5 spot in the lineup hoping to rekindle his spark in the middle.
Entering Wednesday, Torres had cooled some in his previous 14 games, batting .216 (11-for-51) with a .716 OPS. Boone denied that the mini-skid had anything to do with Torres icing his right shoulder earlier in the week, but he did airmail a throw Wednesday over the head of 6-4 Greg Bird for an error that resulted in the Mariners’ opening run. As for his turn in the No. 5 spot, Torres went hitless in his first three at-bats, but had some bad luck when a well-struck liner was snagged in right-center.
Torres began his Yankees’ career at the bottom of the order because that’s where most rookies start when they’re brought aboard a stacked roster. And the No. 9 spot appeared to suit Torres, who entered Wednesday with a slash line of .291/.346/.566 with 14 home runs and 35 RBIs in 50 games.
But those aren’t numbers that jibe with hitting so low in the lineup, and it seemed to be only a matter of time before Boone would nudge him up the ladder. Such a promotion carries an uptick in pressure for a 21-year-old rookie, but the manager has stressed that’s not a concern with Torres, who plays with uncommon poise for his age.
When Wednesday’s lineup was discussed, however, Boone tried to steer the focus away from Torres and more to the overall alignment, saying that his rise had more to do with the absence of the hurting Brett Gardner, which created a leadoff vacancy that has been filled by Aaron Hicks. Whatever the excuse, having Torres at No. 5 — or even higher — just seems too logical.
“I don’t care where I hit him,” Boone said before the game. “That question has come up — do you worry about moving him out of a place he’s been so productive — and no, it makes sense with our personnel that night. I really like him a lot of days hitting in the nine-hole, and I could visualize him going back into that slot.”
With Felix Hernandez, the former Cy Young winner, sandwiched between a pair of lefty starters for the Seattle series, Boone went to a revamped lineup that bumped Torres up to the No. 5 spot, while bouncing Gary Sanchez to sixth and Greg Bird to seventh. It wasn’t the first time Boone moved the slugging rookie up from his usual ninth place in the order, but he’s been doing it more frequently as of late, and this was Torres’ fifth time at No. 5, including three in the past six days.
On the very short list of Yankees’ problems this modest lineup juggling wasn’t really meant as an indictment of anyone, other than sliding Torres into a place where he could perhaps inflict more damage — along with protecting Stanton from a weakened Sanchez behind him. Entering Wednesday night, Sanchez was hitting .191, enough evidence to suggest that Torres would be an upgrade.
Boone, however, refused to bite on the mild shakeup. Since taking over as manager, he’s been unfailingly positive when assessing player performance, even when the numbers tell a different story. If Sanchez had been doing what he was supposed to in the No. 5 hole chances are Boone would have let him be.
The same was true for Bird, who was batting .211, and in a 6-for-39 slide before Wednesday’s game. He had spent the majority of time since his return batting third (nine games) and this was his fourth turn in the No. 7 spot. Again, Boone talked around Bird’s recent malaise, even though being anchored that deep in the lineup — against a righty — was unusual.
“I don’t obsess on results in the short term,” Boone said.
Beyond that, it will be interesting to see where Torres fits best.