Notes: More time for Mientkiewicz
Defensive superiority has first baseman spelling Giambi
NEW YORK -- Playing his way back to the Yankees in August, Doug Mientkiewicz said he took each of the at-bats of his rehab assignment seriously. He had to. They might have been his last chances to see live pitching for some time.
Last month's focused attitude is paying dividends in September. Taking advantage of an opportunity given on Saturday in Boston and with potential postseason matchups looming, Mientkiewicz has reappeared for manager Joe Torre as an appealing defensive option to Jason Giambi's offensive thump.
"I feel like what I do best really shows up in October," Mientkiewicz said. "If Joe wants Jason to play, who argues [with] that? The guy's got an MVP on his mantel and World Series experience, too. Jason and I just want to give Joe an option. It can't hurt to have guys that are playing well. It may not be an easy decision, but it's a good decision to have."
Mientkiewicz started for the third consecutive game on Tuesday, manning first base against the Orioles. Giambi was originally to have played, but he was scratched from the lineup after being hit on the top of his right foot with a pitch, leaving a bruise but keeping him available to pinch-hit.
When the Yankees signed Mientkiewicz in January, the organizational reasoning had been that the offense was potent enough to carry a modest offensive player like Mientkiewicz, even at a traditional power position like first base.
But Mientkiewicz became a quick target after starting slowly, and just when his hitting began to come around, he was nearly lost for the season after suffering a concussion and a broken right wrist after a first-base collision at Fenway Park on June 2.
The lost time has ensured that he will have his lowest at-bat total since 2000 and also that he should glance away when his batting average -- .241 entering play on Tuesday -- hits the center-field matrix board.
"I'm not looking anymore," Mientkiewicz said. "I made it a point that when I come back, I get a fresh start. I don't know if you guys know this, but the chances of me driving in 100 runs are pretty much gone."
In his first two starts since returning, Mientkiewicz hit a little -- he had two hits off Curt Schilling in Boston on Sunday and another on Monday. He credits hitting coach Kevin Long for working with him in the cages since his Sept. 1 activation, but Mientkiewicz has still made more of an impact with his late-season presence and daring defensive play.
"We have enough offense to where I can do the little things to help us win games," Mientkiewicz said.
In one memorable sequence at Fenway Park, Mientkiewicz stabbed a ground ball and dove for the first-base bag, deftly rolling into foul territory to avoid being stepped on by the oncoming baserunner.
If October arrives, Torre will be forced to weigh such images against the power potential of Giambi, who is hitting just .148 (4-for-27) with two homers and six RBIs this month but had a clutch pinch-hit on Sunday to help set the stage for Derek Jeter's three-run homer off Schilling. Utility man Wilson Betemit could be the odd man out; Andy Phillips surely would have also merited consideration had he not fractured his right wrist.
"It all enters into it," Torre said. "You have to factor in the opposing pitcher and our pitcher, as far as the ground balls. You'd like to believe that you'd always be right, but you weigh one against the other. Mientkiewicz could have gone 0-for-4 [on Sunday], but he saved two runs in the first inning. It's certainly something that's in our minds."
Save it for later: At some point after the season, Hideki Matsui says he would like to submit to an analysis of his aching knees, revealing just what has caused them to ache through the course of this season, and determine what actions are necessary.
But he is not curious enough to want to find out now. Matsui homered for the first time since Aug. 8 on Monday, ending a string of 122 at-bats. He said that the knees were not the overriding factor in his recent struggles, however; Matsui went 4-for-27 (.148) on the Yankees' three-city road trip and is hoping that some home cooking will settle his swing.
"Because the results aren't there, you're just pressing and pressing," Matsui said through an interpreter. "You're trying to force the swing. That was happening to me. That was really what was more of the main issue."
It has been suggested that Matsui, who started in left field on Tuesday, may have been dragging with a tired bat. Matsui said that he has not been any more fatigued than normal at this point in the season; Torre pointed to the fact that Matsui has logged 29 games as a designated hitter as evidence of efforts to keep him fresher.
"We've given him plenty of time off," Torre said. "He's DHed more this year than he has his whole career. That certainly is a benefit, and he likes it. If you're mentally pressing a little bit, that'll make you tired automatically. But I don't think it's anything physical."
Light bullpen: With Mariano Rivera shelved for the evening, Torre was asked who his closer might be on Tuesday night. He didn't have much of an answer.
"The guy who pitches last, I guess," Torre said.
A not-ready-for-prime-time bullpen was pushed into effect with Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino all out of commission for various reasons. Torre said that Rivera had pushed to be considered to pitch since he threw only six pitches (all strikes) on Monday, but Farnsworth's ineffectiveness in the ninth inning forced the Yankees to warm up the closer and burn him for a day.
"We're going to have to rely on some of the newcomers," Torre said, naming Brian Bruney, Ross Ohlendorf, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras.
Bombers bits: Johnny Damon is likely to receive a day off Wednesday. ... The Yankees will throw, in order, Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy, Roger Clemens and Phil Hughes against the Blue Jays. ... Torre told Vizcaino he had recorded the toughest out of Tuesday's game, striking out Kevin Millar with the bases loaded in the eighth.
Coming up: The Yankees will complete their three-game series with the Orioles on Wednesday, sending left-hander Andy Pettitte (13-8, 3.89 ERA) to the mound against left-hander Brian Burres (6-5, 5.47 ERA). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET on the YES Network.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.