By Ernie Palladino
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When right, few are better than Mark Teixeira.
Problem is, Tex isn’t right. The sore wrist that necessitated a cortisone shot after his abridged appearance Saturday will now cost him at least two games. In an of itself, that’s not a big deal in a 162-game season. But it’s what came before it and what might come after it that is certainly troubling. Especially when one considers that Teixeira is one of the best team players around.
The nifty first baseman had to exit Masahiro Tanaka’s masterpiece after the sixth inning, well after the pain grew so bad that Teixeira couldn’t swing the bat properly. As stated, when he’s right, he’s a dangerous power hitter for a team sorely in need of dangerous power hitters. With a team-high nine homers and 25 RBIs — the last stat is second to Yangervis Solarte — there’s little doubt that Teixeira is about the only Yankee consistently creating runs.
It seems the wrist surgery that shelved him for all but 15 games of last season hasn’t solved his problems. Now, at age 34, one must wonder if Tex can ever be counted on as a steady presence in the lineup. He, like the retiring Derek Jeter, the aching CC Sabathia, and any number of stars who ages have inched northward, is obviously beginning to break down. He’s already been on the 15-day DL this year with a strained hamstring, and he missed three games against St. Louis last week because of the wrist pain.
Now, it’s two more, and no promises that the pain will subside enough to let him swing fluidly.
In fact, the words coming out of Tex’s mouth Saturday were downright ominous.
“I’m basically back to square one with the soreness,” Teixeira said after his two at-bats. “If the shot doesn’t work, then I’m worried.”
Joe Girardi wasn’t ready to hit the panic button. Though Brian Cashman likely has a short list of outside help for a worst-case scenario, as do all GMs who wish to make their gigs long-term, Girardi probably won’t ask him to pull it out until he’s totally uncomfortable with Teixeira’s tenuous health.
That point hasn’t come yet. In truth, the second-place Yanks aren’t suffering greatly at 29-26. But surviving without a major cog short-term is a lot different than weathering an entire season of now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t.
As far as Girardi is concerned, he has his everyday first baseman. But if the wrist doesn’t cooperate, it will get to a point where Girardi and Cashman will have no choice but to find everyday help. Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan, the two next in line, won’t cut it on a long-term basis. And there’s no guarantee they’ll get Seattle free agent Kendrys Morales after June 5, when his signing will no longer require draft compensation.
Morales actually wouldn’t be a bad pickup. He’s solid enough defensively to provide and upgrade over Johnson, and certainly over catcher Brian McCann, who Girardi pressed into his first professional start there Wednesday. When Teixeira is healthy, the 31-year-old switch-hitter can DH. Their current DH, Alfonso Soriano, may well be needed in the outfield if Carlos Beltran’s sore elbow continues to show the same amount of cooperation as Tex’s wrist.
Cashman may have to battle the Brewers for his services, however. He won’t come cheap, as Morales has already turned down the Mariners’ three-year, $30 million offer.
That would mean either promoting Scott Sizemore from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, or going the trade route. Considering the Yankees’ situation, better to have a proven veteran out there.
Girardi will keep wishing for Teixeira’s effective recovery for now, which is fine. But he and the front office won’t be able to wait much longer to make a move if the pain persists.
As hard as admitting it may be, Girardi might have to concede that another well-liked Yankee has begun to succumb to age and injury. He won’t have to say farewell to Teixeira, as he will the retiring Jeter, but it may be time to push the power-hitting first baseman into a subsidiary role.
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