Joe Girardi Faces Tough Call on Hideki Matsui in Philadelphia

Joe Girardi Faces Tough Call on Hideki Matsui in Philadelphia The World Series is moving to Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, and 5, but the designated hitter is staying behind in New York. With the series knotted at one apiece, the lack of a DH is a handicap for Joe Girardi.

For the Phillies, the designated hitter spot in the lineup meant sending one of their regular-season bench players — Ben Francisco in Game 1, Matt Stairs in Game 2 — to the plate multiple times each game. For the Yankees, it enabled Hideki Matsui, who mashed 28 homers and logged an .876 OPS in the regular season, to flash his offensive prowess without having to stumble around in the outfield.

The 35-year-old Matsui went a combined 3-for-6 with a walk in the first two games of the series and blasted what turned out to be the game-winning home run off Pedro Martinez in the sixth inning of Game 2. Just as Chase Utley teamed up with Cliff Lee to defeat the Yankees in the opener, Godzilla’s performance ensured that A.J. Burnett would not be denied a win on Thursday night.

But in Philadelphia, the Yankees are faced with a difficult decision: Send their Game 2 hero to the bench, or trot out a subpar defensive outfield.

If Girardi decides to keep Matsui out of the starting lineup, the pinstripes’ outfield picture will still be somewhat hazy.

Jerry Hairston Jr. started in place of the slumping Nick Swisher on Thursday and went 1-for-3, but Hairston got the nod because he was 10-for-27 lifetime against Pedro. In games where New York’s pitchers will have to bat, Hairston’s versatility could be too valuable for the Yankees’ skipper to surrender.

Putting Swisher back into the lineup may not be an option, because he’s mired in an unsightly 11-for-77 skid.

And speedster Brett Gardner is an iffy choice, because, as a left-handed batter, he’d be at a significant disadvantage facing Cole Hamels.

Any one of those possibilities also would be a significant offensive downgrade from Matsui — and with Alex Rodriguez scuffling, it’s something the Yankees may not be able to afford. Moreover, while Matsui may be valuable as a pinch hitter in a close game, using him could prove to be a headache for Girardi because a second bench player would likely be needed as a defensive replacement the following half-inning.

Starting Matsui in left, however, carries significant drawbacks as well. In that scenario, Johnny Damon would move from left to center and bump Melky Cabrera over to right, potentially breeding a bevy of defensive problems that extend far beyond Godzilla’s balky knees and diminished range. The most notable one is that Cabrera’s arm — considered average in center — would be subpar for a right fielder, and Damon’s weak noodle was the primary reason he was moved to left by the Yankees in the first place.

Charlie Manuel will not hesitate to encourage his faster runners to go from first to third and attempt to stretch singles into doubles on balls fielded in the gaps, and those extra bases could be the difference in a close game. To be sure, Girardi could counter that by using Gardner as a defensive substitute for Matsui in the late innings, but again, bench players must be used sparingly in National League play, and slotting Gardner into the heart of the order is a risky proposition.

The only thing that’s clear is that there is no clear-cut choice for Girardi, who undoubtedly has the outfield and bench arrangement on his mind during the travel day.

Just as CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Burnett were added during the winter to make their marks in the postseason, Girardi was hired to make tough decisions like this one. The Yankees have done their jobs. Now it’s time for their skipper to do his.

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