Chavez proving to be valuable piece for Yanks
Veteran filling in nicely after overcoming numerous setbacks
There was a time during the most recent of Eric Chavez's numerous stays on the disabled list that the veteran had to look in the mirror, asking himself if this was all still going to be worth it.
That glance of self-evaluation passed quickly, however, and right now the Yankees couldn't be more thankful.
Chavez has wielded a hot bat since returning from injury, and with Alex Rodriguez missing in action and Jorge Posada now bumped out of the designated-hitter role, his presence has been all the more valuable.
"I'm not replacing Alex; that's not what I'm doing," said Chavez, who has 11 hits in 36 at-bats (.306) since being reinstated from the disabled list. "I don't feel that way at all -- maybe that's why I don't feel the pressure. I don't feel like there's any pressure, really."
Rodriguez continues to rehab at the Tampa, Fla., facility which Chavez grew intimately familiar with, having sustained a fractured left foot in early May that cost him 71 team games when other issues -- first kidney stones, then illness and a back injury -- delayed his return.
"I had a tough time with it," Chavez said. "I was playing really well at the time, so I was really frustrated. Once you get over the shock of it and you start the rehab process, you just look forward to coming back."
But the Yankees knew that injuries could be part of the picture with Chavez, a six-time Gold Glove Award winner during his heyday with the Athletics before he paid the price for missteps here and there.
That was why Chavez saw the Yankees as a good fit after spending the first 13 years of his career in gold and green, winning a job this spring as a low-risk invitee.
With Rodriguez at third base and Mark Teixeira at first base, Chavez didn't have to bear expectations of being a premier starting player or carrying a club, as he did after signing a big contract in Oakland.
Chavez answers honestly that he isn't sure his brittle nature will ever permit him to return to being a starting player. Instead, there is some freedom in just being a complementary piece, and Chavez has found that change to be refreshing.
"I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to come here and play, and I've been swinging the bat pretty well," Chavez said. "I'm not replacing anybody. Even if I tried, there's no possible way to replace a guy like Alex.
"The way I see it, I'm just filling my role. This is what I'm here to do. Somebody went down, so I'm supposed to play. If Alex was here, I'd back him up. It's pretty clear."
The Yankees have done a good job of filling in when their key contributors disappear -- whether it's Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in the lineup, or Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano in the bullpen.
Entering a run of 30 games in 30 days, the Yankees headed home early Monday morning having won 18 of 27 since losing Rodriguez to a slight meniscus tear in his right knee.
"It's been a lot of fun, that's for sure," Chavez said. "It's been a lot of fun to watch. I've played on some pretty good offensive teams early with the A's, and I've never seen anything like it.
"If you look at the three guys in the middle -- Robbie [Cano], [Curtis] Granderson and Teixeira -- they do so much damage, the rest of us just have to pitch in. What those three guys are doing, it's pretty miraculous."
Rodriguez could rejoin the Yankees as soon as Sunday, but for the moment, the Bombers have more than patched the void. Chavez knows from experience that Rodriguez's return will only bolster what has proven to be another Yankees juggernaut lineup.
"Being one of the few hitters that actually stayed in Oakland, you kind of felt like you were on an island sometimes," Chavez said. "With those three guys in the middle and what they do -- and we're really looking forward to getting him back, because it's going to make us that much better -- those guys have really carried us for the whole season."
Not that they couldn't use a little help. In announcing on Sunday that Posada would no longer be the Yankees' regular designated hitter, manager Joe Girardi nodded to the play of Chavez as well as infielder Eduardo Nunez, maintaining that the team must junk sentimentality and focus on putting the best team on the field.
"Chavy came back, and Nuney has been swinging the bat well," Girardi said. "It's just a chance to get them both in there. It was kind of the determining factor."
Those words cut daggers of disappointment into Posada, whose entire career has been spent enjoying bright days in pinstripes.
But the fact that Chavez is in that discussion mildly amuses the veteran, who came into the year just hoping to be on the roster, and now could play an important role in helping the Bombers jockey for postseason position.
"If Joe puts me in, wherever he puts me, I'm just going to try to do my job," Chavez said. "I'm not trying to replace anybody or do anything like that. Whatever he asks me to do, I'm just going to do the best that I can."