Joe Girardi goes down with his hand-picked nine


Benched sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher never budged, and lefty Phil Coke was allowed to face three left-handers and switch-hitter Mark Teixeira in escaping the ninth inning of Detroit’s 2-1 win over the Yankees on Tuesday.

Coke replaced Justin Verlander after the ace’s 132nd pitch retired Brett Gardner for the first out of the ninth. Ichiro Suzuki was due up with none on, and he’d be followed by Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Raul Ibanez.

Coke retired Suzuki, only to give up a single to Teixeira when he couldn’t get his glove up fast enough to grab the one-hopper up the middle. Cano followed with another single in a lefty-lefty matchup, snapping his 0-for-29 skid.

That brought up Ibanez, the Yankees’ postseason hero to date. The problem there is that Ibanez hit .197/.246/.246 in 61 at-bats against lefties this season. He came in at .211/.232/.353 in 133 at-bats against them last year.

Pinch-hitting A-Rod for Ibanez was an option, but it certainly would have led to the Tigers countering with Joaquin Benoit. Which probably would have led to switch-hitter Nick Swisher replacing A-Rod. So, if the Yankees were going to do anything, they probably would have just inserted Swisher in the first place and allowed the Tigers to make their pick of Coke or Benoit.

Was that preferable to Ibanez versus Coke? Well, the season stats say yes and that it’s not close. Swisher hit .270/.380/.389 against lefties and .273/.356/.517 against righties this year. He was also far more successful than Ibanez away from Yankee Stadium this year (Ibanez hit .208 with just five of his 19 homers in road games this season). That said, Swisher is ice cold and he’s had very little success in limited pinch-hitting opportunities in his career. Pinch-hitting isn’t easy; AL pinch-hitters batted .206 this year. It’s not really so clear cut.

So, I’m not going to find fault with Girardi’s in-game strategy after questioning his pregame moves earlier. There’s no real shame in getting shut down by the league’s best starter, even if he wasn’t quite at his best tonight. The game may well have unfolded the same way had Rodriguez and Swisher started, though it doesn’t look great for Girardi that Gardner and Eric Chavez went 0-for-7 in their place.

Blue Jays sign Danny Espinosa to minors deal

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Free agent middle infielder Danny Espinosa signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, the team announced Saturday. The deal includes an invite to spring training, where Espinosa is scheduled for his first split-squad game against the Orioles this afternoon.

Espinosa, 30, was inked to another minor-league deal with the Yankees in January. The veteran infielder was competing for an infield job until the team picked up second baseman Neil Walker on a one-year, $4 million deal last Monday. Prior to his release, he slashed .160/.276/.320 with one home run through his first 12 games with the Yankees this spring. He didn’t fare much better in the majors last year, either, batting a cumulative .173/.245/.278 with six home runs and a .523 OPS in 295 PA for the Mariners and Rays.

Blue Jays starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still dealing with a bone spur in his heel and has officially been ruled out for Opening Day, which could clear a path for Espinosa to claim a starting role in Toronto. Of course, he won’t be the only candidate under consideration — Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz are still in the mix as well, though no final decision appears to be made just yet.