Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman

Joe Girardi goes down with his hand-picked nine

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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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.