After the New York Yankees signed Ichiro Suzuki in 2012 and Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014, many wondered where that left Brett Gardner. Would he be relegated to the bench? The minors? The chopping block?
No, no and no.
In fact, Gardner, 30, is having one of his best all-around seasons. He’s hitting a career-high .278 with a career-high 10 home runs and is on pace to set a career-high in RBIs.
What’s been the difference this year?
“I’m just continuing to work hard and trying to really work on my swing with Kevin Long, our hitting coach, and just trying to find a way to become more consistent at the plate,” Gardner said on The Morning Show. “So far, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that. I’m still trying to make some adjustments and always work on trying to use the whole field. The first part of my career and in college, as I was growing as a player, I really used the opposite field almost 100 percent of the time. I’m just trying to open the ball up and hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
That’s all well and good, but Brandon Tierney wants to know why Gardner isn’t stealing more bases – in part because Gardner is on Tierney’s fantasy baseball team. Gardner has 17 steals this season, but he had 47 in 2010 and 49 in 2011. He’s also still really, really fast, so why isn’t he running more?
“My mindset on first base is to get into scoring position, but you’ve obviously got to take things into account with who’s on the mound and who’s at the plate and what the situation is – and the biggest thing for me is how my body’s feeling,” Gardner said. “I agree with you. I think I can run more. I want to run more. Right now I feel pretty good. Hopefully I’ll continue to get on base in the second half and steal some more bases and we’ll get those big guys in the middle of the lineup some RBI opportunities.”
One of those big guys is Brian McCann, who, after six consecutive 20-homer seasons, is hitting just .239 with 10 home runs.
“I think he’s been great behind the plate, and he’s done a great job of coming in and getting to know his pitching staff and trying to be on the same page as them,” Gardner said. “Our pitchers really seem to like throwing to him. I think he’s swinging the bat better than maybe his numbers indicate. Obviously they’re playing an extreme shift on him and he’s trying to make some adjustments and do what he can to try and negate that the best way possible.”
And then, of course, there’s Derek Jeter, who isn’t hitting in the middle of the order but is faring pretty well in his age-40 season. Jeter is hitting .270 with 27 RBIs, 34 runs and seven steals.
Gardner said this season has been extremely similar to last season, when Mariano Rivera was honored every time he went to a ball park for the final time.
“We’re kind of used to it,” Gardner said, laughing. “But aside from that, you couldn’t tell anything’s any different. (Jeter) carries himself the same way. He hasn’t changed one thing about what he does, and it’s pretty special. It’s been pretty special to watch. I’m sure I’ve kind of taken it for granted. When he’s gone and when I’m done playing, I’ll probably look back and say, ‘Man, I was pretty fortunate not only to have played alongside him, but Mariano and Jorge (Posada) and a bunch of great players – guys that not only stand out on the baseball field, but off the field as well. It’s a lot of fun watching him go about his business and be able to go out there and compete with him on a nightly basis. It’s pretty special.”
The Yankees (53-48) have to be especially pleased with their performance out of the break. They’ve won six of seven and trail Baltimore by just three games in the AL East.
“So far we’ve played well after the break,” Gardner said. “Hopefully we can keep it rolling.”