Nov 2, 2009, 11:50 AM EDT
Melky Cabrera injured his left hamstring last night while running out a ground ball in the sixth inning. He initially tried to stay in the game, but was replaced defensively by Brett Gardner in the next half-inning and is now considered “doubtful” for tonight’s Game 5.
Cabrera has started every playoff game in center field, but Gardner drew 63 starts there during the regular season as the Yankees ran a platoon for much of the year. In terms of overall value there isn’t much of a dropoff from Cabrera to Gardner and in some situations Gardner would be the superior option, but in this case the injury hurts New York because of Cliff Lee.
Even if the Yankees were still employing a platoon in center field the switch-hitting Cabrera would get the call against the left-handed Lee. Cabrera hit .268/.343/.420 in 178 plate appearances against lefties this season, while the left-handed-hitting Gardner has batted just .241/.310/.316 in 91 plate appearances against southpaws during his brief career. Toss in the fact that Lee is much more effective versus lefties than righties and Cabrera is clearly a better bet to do damage against the Phillies’ ace.
Joe Girardi also brought up the possibility of leaving Gardner on the bench and giving Jerry Hairston Jr. the start in place of Cabrera. Hairston started twice in center field for the Yankees during the season, which is two more starts than he made in right field before getting the nod there against Pedro Martinez in Game 2. Hairston has logged 847 innings in center field during his dozen-year career and might be a slightly better bet than Gardner against Lee, and Girardi has certainly shown a willingness to tinker.
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