By Ernie Palladino
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Perhaps the game isn’t too big for Yangervis Solarte.
Never tested on a major league level, and with two seasons of Triple-A under his belt, Solarte helped displace the popular and now departed backup Eduardo Nunez at the end of camp. He was slated to back up at third, since Dean Anna, the second part of the Nunez coupe, would become Derek Jeter’s primary caddy at shortstop.
The question hovering over him was whether he was worthy, even in intermittent use, of stepping into the patch of infield where the great Alex Rodriguez once strode.
Solarte has begun to prove that he is, and not in a backup role, either. Since Kelly Johnson moved over to fill in for the DL’ed Mark Teixeira at first, the 26-year-old Venezuelan has started at third. He’s played nine games including last night’s tilt against the Red Sox, in which he hit in the eighth spot, and has a .387 average with 12 hits and seven RBIs. Six of those hits are doubles.
One should remember that Solarte hit .429 in spring training, too. That’s kind of what caught Joe Girardi’s eye in the first place.
What’s catching everyone else’s, it seems, is the kid’s composure. It’s not that he hasn’t been in situations before. It took him a lot of baseball to get up here — eight years and 672 minor league games with the Twins and Rangers — and he’s seen plenty. But nothing on the major league level. When he finally did get that initial at-bat, he came back to the bench and told hitting coach Kevin Long every pitch he was thrown.
Long saw that as maturity beyond his experience.
“Most guys can’t remember anything about that first one,” Long recounted to the Post.
Though he did hit into that game-ending double play in Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the Orioles, Solarte is doing just fine right now. Some talkies are downright excited over his short-range prospects. Take the WFAN morning show hosts, Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton, for instance. They’ve already started singing his praises, literally.
“So-Lar-Tay!” Carton vocalizes to the tune of “Volare” virtually every morning, inspired by Yankees radio man John Sterling. (Editor’s note: Sorry, Craig! It was the other way around. My mistake, I apologize. — CC.) Though Solarte has yet to go long, thereby limiting Sterling’s usual play on surnames, that probably will come sooner than later.
He is capable, having hit two homers in spring training and 41 in the minors, including consecutive double-digit seasons with the Rangers’ Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) affiliate in 2012 and 2013.
Whether his good fortune lasts or not is a big question. Solarte will likely be penciled into the lineup as long as Teixeira’s bad hamstring keeps him on the DL. By the time the regular first baseman gets back, Solarte should have had enough time to make his case for sticking in the starting lineup or going back to the bench.
That’s in Girardi’s best interest, anyway. He’s already tried Francisco Cervelli at first, and that didn’t work out great. Now, Johnson has to stay there. And as long as Johnson mans that spot, third base should belong to Solarte.
He’s earned it with a good first week, a stretch where he has proven the game isn’t too big for him.
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