Visit To NL's Nationals Can't End Fast Enough For Struggling Bombers

By Sweeny Murti
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Amidst all our angst over seeing Alex Rodriguez in uniform, where did this idea fit in? The one where the Yankees are dreading the next two games because there is no DH in the National League, and that means A-Rod might be glued to the bench.

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Do the Yankees need his help as they begin a two-game series with the Nationals on Tuesday? You tell me. They’ve lost five out of six. They’ve scored more than two runs only twice in the last seven games. You know who homered in both of those games? A-Rod.

It could be worse. The Yanks only play these two interleague games in D.C. before returning home and restoring the DH to the lineup. Remember 2009? The Yanks played nine consecutive road games in NL parks, which sent Hideki Matsui to the bench. He pinch-hit in eight of those games, going just 1-for-8.

That ended pretty well for the Yanks, though. They turned on the jets after a team meeting in Atlanta, ended up winning six of the nine games and rolled through the rest of the season. And Matsui actually came back refreshed, batting .387 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in the next 11 games before the All-Star break.

Matsui was the perfect DH on that 2009 team. He couldn’t physically hold up anymore if he played the field regularly so they used him the best way possible. He was the DH 118 times and rolled up a .876 OPS with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs.

The Yankees’ offense has sputtered over the last two years, and a big reason was the DH dilemma. They didn’t have one. Sure, Joe Girardi’s rotating DH sounded like a good idea with so many aging players on the roster, but it was a little like putting four semi-flat tires on a car and trying to drive on the highway. It wasn’t taking you anywhere fast.

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In 2013, the Yankees had five different players in the lineup for at least 10 games at DH. Travis Hafner started there a team-high 67 times. For the season, the Yankees’ designated hitters compiled a .583 OPS. (For the sake of comparison, Stephen Drew currently has a .609 OPS.) They hit just 16 home runs with 61 RBIs and they batted .189. That’s .189! The position created solely to hit and do nothing else, and they made Didi Gregorius (currently hitting .204) look like a batting champ.

It got only slightly better in 2014, when the Yankees had four different guys play at least 10 games at DH, led by Carlos Beltran’s 76 appearances. This time they combined for a .662 OPS with 18 home runs and 63 RBIs.

The Yankees’ offensive failures of the previous two years can be directly attributed to their failure to find production from the DH. They kept putting unhealthy or unproductive bodies into an important spot in the lineup and continuously got nothing from them. Last September I had a solution. If Alex Rodriguez could make it back healthy and begin to hit again, he would serve them best by throwing away the glove and concentrating on hitting.

Well, the Yankees are there now, conceding that A-Rod should only play the field in cases of extreme need and focus on hitting and not getting hurt. With a .913 OPS, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs, it’s not hard to modestly project 25 to 30 home runs, assuming he stays relatively healthy. I say relatively because if you watch him “run” these days, it’s not hard to think he will miss a week or two with a muscle pull of some kind.

Girardi seems a little more at ease resting A-Rod for these two games because it’s not like 2009, with all those DH-less games in a row creating a disadvantage. He doesn’t even seem to mind the three games against the Mets at Citi Field in September, when the Yankees could have to remove A-Rod during a crucial time of year. Girardi feels those games are on the schedule, and as long as they are spread out, when they occur shouldn’t make a difference, even pointing out that expanded rosters in September could make it easier to manage the problem.

Here’s what it all comes down to right now: A-Rod is hitting and the Yankees need him in the lineup. This week more than ever. So for them, Friday can’t get here fast enough.

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Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter: @YankeesWFAN