First Pitch: Time to sit Ichiro?

TAMPA -- It is no secret that by the sheer numbers, the Yankees have too many outfielders, and when Curtis Granderson comes back in May, someone is going to have to go.

Right now, the consensus pick is Ben Francisco, who, in spite of being one of just two right-handed bats among the outfielders, has pretty much done nothing so far. He has just two singles in 18 at-bats for a .111 batting average.

Or the odd man out might turn out to be Brennan Boesch, who gets very little playing time and didn’t get in at all over the weekend against the Blue Jays even though Joe Girardi had said he would try to work him in.

One guy who is not going anywhere is Ichiro Suzuki, since the Yankees signed him to a two-year, $13-million contract despite his age (39) and recent performance -- .261 BA and .288 OBP in 95 games with the Mariners last year, and his .200 BA and .250 OBP so far this season.

But even though Ichiro is signed to be a Yankee for as long as Derek Jeter, it may be about time for Joe Girardi to sit him down and find out what some of these other outfielders can do before making a decision.

There’s no question that when Granderson comes back, Vernon Wells should remain in the everyday lineup, despite his lack of experience playing right field (just 28 games in 14 seasons).

In that case, Ichiro will become the backup outfielder. Why not start preparing him now for the role?

In the interim, Girardi should give Francisco, and especially Boesch, as much playing time as he can to get a fair picture of what each can do. Clearly, Boesch has a little more power and a little more versatility; a couple of weeks ago, he took grounders at first in the event Mark Teixeira was going to be out longer than expected.

But being a left-handed hitter on a team loaded with lefties certainly works against him, although his .288 career batting average against left-handed pitching seems to indicate he should get a good long look. And unlike Francisco, Boesch still has options left; the Yankees could conceivably send him to AAA Scranton.

In any event, Ichiro, who was such a refreshing presence in the clubhouse and the lineup during his two months as a Yankee last season, looks a lot like the player he was in Seattle before he was traded here.

He seems to have lost a step on the baselines and in the outfield, and on some swings, his bat looks slow, too. His awkward swing at strike three from Josh Johnson in the second inning of Sunday’s game made him look like a man caught in a revolving door.

This is not to minimize Ichiro’s career contributions or his qualifications to end up in Cooperstown, as he surely will. He’s had a great career, but sometimes you wonder if the two-year signing was more about selling jerseys and Yankees gear in the Japanese marketplace than it was about winning games.

If the Yankees want to keep winning as they have been, it’s time to give someone else a look in right field. Right now, Ichiro can probably help the Yankees more as a lefty bat off the bench than as the everyday right fielder.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you agree it is time to sit Ichiro? If so, would you rather see Francisco or Boesch get most of the playing time? Let us know in the comments section.

UP NOW: My column on what the Yankees demonstrated to the Blue Jays this weekend in Toronto, despite their 8-4 loss in the series finale, as well as some post-game notes.

ON DECK: Game against the Rays tonight in St. Petersburg, CC Sabathia (3-1, 2.57 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Moore, who is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA so far. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. The clubhouse opens at 3:40 so check in around then for starting lineups and pregame notes. And as always, thanks for reading.