08/12/08 9:17 PM ET
Damon gets the nod in center field
Struggling Cabrera could be relegated to fourth outfielder
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Damon returned to the Yankees' lineup, playing center field on Tuesday after a surprise night off, when manager Joe Girardi elected to rest the American League's leading hitter in favor of rookie Justin Christian.
Having played in 17 consecutive games, Damon had walked past the posted sheet on Monday, expecting that he would be in as the Yankees opened their three-game series against the Twins at the Metrodome. He wasn't, and had to hear the news from the media.
"I shouldn't automatically assume that I'm in the lineup every single day," Damon said. "I know he wants to rest me, and it's been working out fine all year. I'm having a pretty good year, and he's been able to protect me and rest me and make sure I stay healthy. Last night was just one of those days where, unfortunately, I had to find out from [reporters] instead of looking at the lineup."
As it turned out, Damon never got into the Yankees' 4-0 loss to Minnesota, while Christian took an 0-for-4. Damon's left shoulder has received some protection since an A-C sprain on July 4 cost him 10 games, but this was more about guarding him from three straight games on the artificial turf at the Metrodome, including an early day game on Wednesday.
"I think [Damon] can play on a regular basis for us," Girardi said. "I am not concerned. I think he's healthy enough now to play for us on a regular basis, as long as he keeps from running into walls with his left shoulder."
That shoulder showed improvement during the Yankees' series in Arlington and even withstood a collision with the wall at Angel Stadium over the weekend, a lucky blow for those who feared Damon might return to square one.
Girardi put Damon -- batting .322 entering Tuesday's play -- back into center field, supplanting the long-slumping Melky Cabrera, who has three hits in his past 22 at-bats and may be bumped from starting duty.
"We feel that Johnny is healthy enough to play center field for us," Girardi said. "You run a little bit more, maybe, but every position is demanding. We're going to try to put our best lineup on the field every day. We'll look at it every day. For Johnny, I think playing center field is like riding a bike. I don't think it's a tough adjustment."
Damon said that he was thankful that Girardi has been cautious with his shoulder, and while advance notice is certainly not required for a day off, it would be appreciated.
"As a player, you would like that, but the manager is the one that calls the shots," Damon said. "Maybe he didn't think about it until he got to the ballpark. He normally lets me know. As players, you know there might be some guys that came here today not knowing if they were playing or not. It's part of the game."
Increased time in center field for Damon would relegate Cabrera to fourth-outfielder status, with Xavier Nady starting regularly in left field and Bobby Abreu in right field. The 24-year-old Cabrera was 0-for-3 on Monday and is hitting .243 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in 115 games.
"You know, you watch him do his work and the work is good," Girardi said. "You watch his preparation, and at times, he's a little overanxious. At times, he's run into some bad luck. It's been a tough couple of months for Melky. ... The bottom line is I think he's better than what he's produced. I really do. We all believe that. For whatever reason, it's a tough year for him."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.