Williams most affected by changes
Focus remains on longtime Yankees center fielder
ST. PETERSBURG -- The day after the Yankees did the Bronx Shuffle, the biggest commotion didn't concern the three new wrinkles added to the lineup but the man removed from it.Robinson Cano was at second, Tony Womack was in left and Hideki Matsui was in center. And Bernie Williams was in the spotlight. The pregame mood felt like a wake for Williams' distinguished career, a notion dismissed by the principals, both those who made the decision to remove him from the lineup and the one affected by it. "I can play. I should be able to help the club, and I'm going to play through this," said Williams, whose growing inability to throw through tendinitis in his right elbow set off the chain of events that overhauled the Yankees' lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Devil Rays. "Bernie will do some DH-ing. We'll make sure he's a priority for getting at-bats. If he just gets that right arm better, we'll have more options," said manager Joe Torre, who did not rule out Williams' eventual return to his home in center field. "I agree with everyone," Torre said. "Bernie is getting older. But I still think he's more than just a good player. That's what I feel. Maybe I just want to feel that. My loyalty has to be to 25 people, not just one, but I am pulling for it to happen." Weighing in, general manager Brian Cashman said the move "was not easy, because Bernie has meant so much and is such a pro. My greatest hope is that Bernie will help us win games in whatever role. I have no doubts he's got plenty left." The focus on Williams was understandable. He has manned center field in Yankee Stadium since 1991 with class, dignity and an admirable array of physical skills. If that tenure is coming to a close, the sun would set on a significant era. That era's twilight may have come in the top of the eighth here on Monday. Before Williams batted, Torre alerted him that, should he get on base, Bubba Crosby would run for him. "Bernie, you can't throw," Torre told him. "If we get in a situation, you can't throw the ball in. Trust me, I don't like doing this." After Williams collected his second single of the night, Crosby did run for him and finished out the Yankees' 6-2 win. Williams never possessed a strong throwing arm, even when he was earning four consecutive Gold Gloves. The elbow injury incurred on a recent swing has only magnified that deficiency. "It's an injury, and I think during the course of a season, you're not going to feel 100 percent all the time," Williams said. "So this is one of those things I have to play through. "My job is to make myself available to play to the best of my ability. Mentally, I've got to stay ready to play every day." On Tuesday, however, he sat and watched Matsui play his position, a move made possible by Womack's first career start in left field. Although Womack had made 115 prior outfield starts -- 13 in center and 102 in right -- this was his first start in the outfield since 1999. Womack was uprooted to make room for Cano, who brought his .333 average, 15 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs from Columbus. "It's very good to be here. I'll do the best I can, whatever I'm asked to do," said the soft-spoken 22-year-old Dominican, who added that he was "very excited" by this opportunity. This shakeup bore some resemblance to a move a few years ago that worked out very well for Torre. All-Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch's suddenly errant throwing arm was sent to left field in 2001 to make room for a 25-year-old Dominican -- Alfonso Soriano. "Now it happens to be my center-fielder's arm," Torre said. "We don't have the Bernie Williams we all want to have. I still think he has more than what we've seen." For now, Torre is looking at the results of a dramatic tremor. "We're trying something not conventional, especially for a ballclub like the Yankees," he conceded. And he doesn't know how long he'll be trying it. "We're just going to look at it. We felt like we wanted to inject the club with something," Torre said. "We'll see. We're not so stubborn to say, 'This is what we want, and we will die with it.' "We'll look at it, and try it." It's a different look. It's a look without Williams in the sightlines, as the outfielder became the medium for change.
"It was one way we could deal with our issues," Cashman said, "not a way to deal with Bernie."Williams seems to understand. "This is like any other adversity we have gone through in years past," he said. "You measure what a team is all about by how people handle adversity. "We're in a situation where we're not playing the way we should, and everyone knows that. Hope the pendelum swings in our favor. We've got too much talent in this room to get discouraged a month after the season starts."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.