Yanks call up speedster Christian
With Damon and Matsui ailing, club needs another outfielder
PITTSBURGH -- Justin Christian had an inkling that something important was about to happen when his name mysteriously vanished from the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup, but he wasn't finding any answers in the home clubhouse.
"The coaches were kind of standoffish," Christian said. "I don't think they wanted to give anything away."
Consider the mystery solved. With both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui ailing, Christian joined the Yankees on Tuesday and found the missing name printed at PNC Park, in line to make his Major League debut batting eighth and playing left field.
The 28-year-old Christian made a solid impression showcasing his talents in Spring Training. He was batting .309 with four home runs, 39 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 55 games at Triple-A, and in June, Christian was batting .412 (21-for-51).
"He created havoc on the basepaths and played very good defense," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He got some important hits in the later innings for us [in Spring Training]. I liked it, because he brings an element that can create some confusion. He's a good story, too."
Girardi said that having five left-handed pitchers on the slate in their next six games prompted the Yankees to select Christian over Brett Gardner, another speedster also playing well at Triple-A.
Christian was pleased with how his campaign was progressing, but even he believed that a September callup might be his best-case scenario.
"It happened a little sooner than I thought," Christian said. "Luckily, I was able to play well down there, and I feel pretty ready."
Christian's addition to the Yankees roster came in concert with moves to option left-handed reliever Billy Traber and outright right-handed pitcher Steven White to Triple-A.
It also completed a meandering trek to the big leagues for Christian, who went undrafted out of college and played independent ball in O'Fallon, Mo., before the Yankees offered him a chance in the summer of 2004, assigning him to their Gulf Coast League affiliate.
"It's definitely been a grind," Christian said.
Christian had been assured that if he produced good collegiate numbers, an organization would eventually take notice. He held up his end of the bargain, including being named an All-American at Southeast Missouri State.
A transfer from Auburn after the 2001 season may have made it difficult for scouts to properly track Christian's progress.
"I was hurt by it, but it was kind of the driving force for me," Christian said.
With the Yankees, Christian said he revamped his game with a focus on getting on base and allowing his above-average speed to impact contests. Christian has stolen 235 bases in his Minor League career and has been caught just 39 times.
"I'd like to think I bring a lot of speed to a game, and definitely change the outcome of a game," Christian said. "I use my legs and defense, and as a contact hitter, I put the ball in play. I'm somebody who's going to play the game hard every day."
Christian figures to see action at least this week while the Yankees play in National League parks in Pittsburgh and against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Damon's left arch began to bother him during Sunday's game, and the veteran planned to spend most of Tuesday receiving treatment, while Girardi said that Matsui's swollen left knee -- aggravated from playing the field last week in Houston -- is likely to preclude him from playing the outfield during the series at PNC Park.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.