As the Yankees sit atop the American League East standings with a 24-13 record, looking to sweep the Royals in Kansas City on Thursday night, Joe Girardi believes this hot start is akin to his world championship team of 2009.
“2009 we had that special feeling, always coming back,” the Yankees manager told WFAN radio. “This club, I feel with the on-base guys and the power that we’re never out of a game. They’ve done a really good job of being patient at the plate and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. When I look at what we’ve done, we’ve put together some big innings, which is great. We put a couple together yesterday. But we’ve just really swung the bats well.”
Despite the attention that rookie outfielder Aaron Judge has received, New York’s two hottest hitters have been second baseman Starlin Castro and outfielder Aaron Hicks. Castro, 27, leads the league in hits (54) and trails only Seattle’s Jean Segura by eight points for highest batting average (.359) in the American League. Contrary to last season, Hicks has emerged as a fan favorite this spring, as he leads the team in on-base percentage (.464) and walks (22).
Girardi on Castro: “He’s been sensational. We’ve put him in the fourth slot, and he’s done a really good job there, and he’s driven in important runs. Aaron Judge has done a good job behind him. Castro, we saw last year, there’s power there, and there’s the ability to hit really any pitch. It’s when he stays in the strike zone, he’s extremely dangerous.”
Girardi on Hicks: “I know he made a few minor adjustments over the winter, but I just think sometimes it takes some players a little bit longer to mature than others. They have to figure out what their niche is, and ‘if I’m not playing every day, how do I do it?’ And he’s adapted really well. We’ve given him consistent at-bats this year, more than we were able to last year, and I think that’s really helped. I’ve been really pleased with the amount of walks he had this year. Left-handed, right-handed, I think he’s done a really good job of being patient and not chasing pitches. And I think he’s comfortable here now. He understands who his teammates are, and he’s not trying to do too much to try to impress other people.”
As for the status of first baseman Greg Bird, who’s been out since May 2 with a bruised right ankle, Girardi told WFAN that the 24-year-old did some outside running on Thursday. The team hopes to have him start baseball activity after their road trip, which ends Sunday.
Despite an April surge for third baseman Chase Headley, who hit .301 with three homers and eight RBI, the month of May hasn’t been kind to him, as his average has dropped down to .256 in two and a half weeks. But Girardi believes Headley’s at-bats have been good, and his slump is due to some bad luck with balls put in play.
Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to pitch in Tampa on Saturday against the Rays–a team that shelled the 28-year-old righty on Opening Day. It’ll be the second straight start for Tanaka with an extra day of rest, and team believes his blunders have been mechanical and not physical.
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio player above.