Yankees’ Gardner not sure how to earn more playing time

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Brett Gardner has been one of the Yankees’ hottest hitters for the last two months, hitting .357 with a .440 on-base percentage since April 28.

He’s reached base nine times in 15 plate appearances in the three games since replacing the injured Derek Jeter at the lead-off spot. And in his last 50 games, Gardner has a higher batting average than Robinson Cano, a higher slugging percentage than Alex Rodriguez, and is tied with Curtis Granderson for the team’s highest OPS (.943).

Of course none of this means anything once Jeter returns from his calf injury. Joe Girardi confirmed as much on Tuesday, telling Ben Shpigel of the New York Times that “Derek’s been our leadoff guy. We’ll see how he feels, but yeah.”

Whether Gardner’s overall success will earn him some more starts against left-handers remains to be seen. His splits vs. lefties (.286/.390/.343) isn’t much worse than his numbers vs. righties (.294/.366/.465). One thing that is certain is Gardner would like more playing time:

The Yankees, though, are scheduled to face right-handed starters for at least the next six games. When asked what he could do to change Girardi’s mind, Gardner said, “Hit .400 against them, I don’t know.”

Gardner said the sporadic starts could grow frustrating because, “if you’re not getting a lot of at-bats against lefties, it’s hard to get better against them.”

Gardner’s frustration is understandable, as he’s put together nearly two months of extended success at the plate. Maybe he deserves more opportunity to show what he can do, and maybe he deserves to hit lead-off even after Jeter returns. Then again, you have to wonder if Gardner’s success is partly due to Girardi putting him in situations where he is more likely to do well.

Do you need playing time to succeed, or do you earn playing time by succeeding? Players, naturally, will always argue the former, but it’s a chicken-or-the-egg sort of thing.

Of course, I wouldn’t complain too much if I were Gardner. After all, Girardi gave him a shot to share lead-off duties with Jeter to start the season, and Gardner responded with a 6-for-40 slump. Will Gardner get another chance? If he keeps hitting like this, we’ll find out soon enough.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.