Lineup changes include Matsui in right
Posada at DH; Melky, Cano move to help put a jolt in offense
KANSAS CITY -- The last time Hideki Matsui took a fly ball in right field, it was the summer of 2005. He slipped and fell chasing a double, spraining his right ankle and placing a consecutive-games streak in jeopardy.
The iron-man string is old news, but with injuries piling up of late and Matsui one of their most productive hitters, the Yankees can only hope there is no repeat occurrence on Thursday. Matsui found his name in right field on Joe Girardi's lineup card as the Yankees prepared to finish their three-game series in Kansas City.
"I guess I should be comfortable," Matsui said through an interpreter. "Being that I'm not used to being in right field, there are certain things that I just need to pay attention to a little bit more than in left field, in terms of defense and position."
Bobby Abreu was given the evening off after playing in the Yankees' first nine games. The last time Matsui played in right field was on June 12, 2005, against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, though he has appeared there four times as a Yankee and played there more in Japan.
Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson informed Matsui that right field would be a possibility after Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Royals, especially after the club optioned Shelley Duncan to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in order to create room for infielder Alberto Gonzalez.
Had Duncan been on the roster, Girardi said there was a good chance he -- not Matsui -- would be playing right field, but Matsui said the surprise assignment was no problem.
"It doesn't really affect me that much, being that I've been playing out there [in the outfield] so long. It's fine with me," Matsui said.
The switch was just one change in the Yankees' fluid lineup, which Girardi insisted shifted because New York is facing its first left-hander of the year -- the Royals' John Bale -- and not because his club has scored just 25 runs in its first nine games, its fewest since 1989.
The timing, especially considering New York has scored just twice in the first two games on the road this year, made all the moves curious. Melky Cabrera moved up to the No. 2 spot as Robinson Cano, hitting just .197, dropped back to seventh while the Yankees wait for the second baseman to break out.
"We think that at any point, [Cano] could go 4-for-4," Girardi said. "He's had a lot of good at-bats; he just hasn't had a lot of breaks."
Jorge Posada, sidelined from catching with a strained right shoulder, returned to the lineup as New York's designated hitter, with Alex Rodriguez moving up to No. 3.
Matsui, one of the few Yankees hitting consistently (.333, two homers, six RBIs), remains confident that brighter days are ahead, despite the underwhelming start.
"We just can't seem to capitalize on opportunities yet," Matsui said. "We seem to be able to create opportunities and chances to score, but we can't get that one hit to get us going."
The changes were necessary because, in part, the Yankees' lineup has been impacted by the absence of Derek Jeter.
The shortstop strained his left quadriceps on Monday in New York and will not resume baseball activities -- including running -- until Friday at the earliest.
"I have not done anything," Jeter said. "Until I do that, I really have nothing for you."
Girardi said Jeter's injury leaves him doubtful for at least Friday's opener of the series at Fenway Park.
"You use your quad for everything," Girardi said. "I would think it would be more the running than anything -- quick starts and stops and trying to accelerate."
Posada will try long-tossing on Friday in Boston, but Girardi said he expects to have Jose Molina behind the plate to receive Chien-Ming Wang as the Yankees meet the Red Sox for the first time in 2008.
"It's hard when you're missing players of that caliber, no matter who they are," Girardi said. "It's hard to replace players. Derek has been a guy who's been there for so long.
"He's been kind of the rock, and you miss him. You've got to cope with it, no excuses. You've got to find a way to win games, and that's why we're here."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.