It’s still early enough in Brett Gardner’s season for last night’s game to make a big difference in his numbers. By going 5 for 6 with a home run and a triple, he raised his average .022 points to .303, his on-base percentage .016 to .374 and his slugging by a whopping .051 to .441.
For Gardner, last night’s game was the crowning moment in his 2009 renaissance. Handed the starting job out of Spring Training, Gardner faltered. Through April 26, he was hitting just .220/.254/.271, and with Melky’s bat showing signs of life, Gardner was out of a regular job. That would be the low point of the season for Brett. While his average eventually dipped to .214, his OPS and stock has been on the rise since then.
Since his benching, Gardner has played his way back into consideration. From May 1 through last night, he has 111 plate appearance, and he is hitting .355/.444/.548 in that span with 22 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. In a season with 650 plate appearances, that would put him on pace to score over 120 runs and steal 70.
While the power is a welcome bonus, that .444 OBP since the start of May is the key for Brett. He’s a fast guy who can, as the age-old baseball cliché says, make things happen on the base paths. He steals; he moves the defense; he scores runs. He can handle the bat well and has a discerning eye. Right now, he’s crediting a more aggressive approach with his recent success. Whatever it is he’s doing sure is working.
On the other side of the center field battle is Melky Cabrera. After a very poor 2008, Cabrera has rebounded with a solid 2009. He’s hitting .287/.351/.446 with 7 home runs and a few key walk-off hits. After losing the job in Spring Training, Melky played his way into the starting role by hitting .342/.422/.534 through May 8. Since then, though, as Gardner has improved, Melky has not. Over 145 plate appearances since May 9, Melky is hitting .256/.310/.395. While not nearly as bad as he was last year, Melky has hit another post-April cold streak.
Right now, the Yankees are in an envious position. They have two viable candidates for center field who can both field their position well. The solution is to go with the hot hand. For now, Brett Gardner should be playing until he’s no longer performing at above-average production. After the game, Joe Girardi acknowledged that Gardner had earned regular playing time. It’s hard to argue with that.