Rob Refsnyder adds intrigue to an already interesting second half

Rob Refsnyder's two-run home run Sunday is evidence of the rookie's considerable potential with the bat, which offers an upgrade over Stephen Drew. AP Photo/Steven Senne

BOSTON -- Everything the New York Yankees love about Rob Refsnyder was on display in Sunday's 8-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox: his youthful energy, his bat, his quick wits and his occasional power.

Everything the Yankees fear about Rob Refsnyder was on display as well: his inexperience at second base, his incomplete mastery of the nuances of the position, his youthful impulsiveness and the disquieting realization they might not be able to say goodbye to Stephen Drew just yet.

In his two-day audition for a full-time job, Refsnyder performed too well to be sent back to Scranton and not quite well enough to be sent to second base every day without some crossed fingers and bated breath.

That should make the second half of the Yankees' season even more interesting than it already would have been with them sitting atop the AL East, though none too securely, with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and 38 of their final 77 games against divisional rivals.

Refsnyder picked up his first major league hit, his first major league home run and his first major league error in Sunday's win. He also made his first near-error in judgment, which leaves open the question of whether the Yankees will need to continue to carry Drew, his .182 batting average and his $5 million paycheck the rest of the way, if only as late-inning defensive insurance.

It is not solely Refsnyder's fault that Sunday's game ended the way it did -- as an 8-6 nail-biter, rather than the comfortable 8-4 win it looked like heading into the ninth inning -- but his inability to handle Andrew Miller's throw to second on what should have been a game-ending double play ball by Hanley Ramirez allowed the Red Sox's fifth run to score and set the stage for the sacrifice fly that brought home the sixth.

It also created the strange turn of events that caused Refsnyder's two-run home run in the top of the inning to become the game-winner instead of a nice moment for a rookie in his second big-league game.

Had this not been a two-day trial -- Refsnyder has been given no guarantees he will still be a Yankee when the season resumes Friday, and Brendan Ryan, who is owed $2.5 million this season, could be ready to return by then -- odds are Joe Girardi would have sent Drew out as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the ninth.

But the Yankees have clearly been showcasing Refsnyder this weekend, for themselves as well as the rest of baseball, with the trade deadline drawing near and the need for a starting pitcher looming.

That is why, when asked if he had considered replacing Refsnyder with Drew for the final three outs, Girardi said, "There was no hesitation. We just thought we would leave him in there to play. That's what we brought him in to do. We wanted to see the kid play and how he reacted. I thought he reacted pretty well today."

The manager was clearly not happy about what happened in the bottom of the ninth, even if he stopped short of pointing the finger at his young second baseman.

"I couldn’t tell if [Miller's throw] cut," Girardi said. "It’s a play we need to make, and when we give extra outs, you put yourself in trouble, especially with the way guys swing the bats now. We almost put ourselves in a bad position."

Luckily for the Yankees, Miller got Shane Victorino to hit a soft liner into shallow left that Didi Gregorius was able to run down for the final out. That turned the misplay into a teachable moment, rather than a lesson learned the hard way.

"I got to the bag late. It's my fault," Refsnyder said. "I think the ball and the runner were getting to the base around the same time, but I’ve got to catch it."

Miller was just as eager to accept the blame -- "It's a bad throw. I'll wear it," he said -- but Refsnyder said he and Miller talked about the play on the field after it happened, and the 24-year-old second baseman finally attributed the mistake to the speed of the big league game.

"It’s a tough play because we’re both breaking for the ball," Refsnyder said. "The ball, the runner, everything's coming back to the bag. The timing was just a little bit messed up. But like I said, I definitely should have caught it."

The reason that play, which did not decide the game, was discussed more than Refsnyder's home run, which ultimately did, is simple: Refsnyder's ability with the bat has never been in question. His glove is the likely reason his promotion to the majors was so long in coming, even with Drew carrying the lowest batting average of 162 qualifying major league position players.

The Yankees know Refsnyder will hit; his batting average (.286) is already 100 points higher than Drew's, and his OPS (.897) is more than 200 points better. It is his presence in the infield, his ability to turn double plays with Gregorius, his ability to save runs with his glove the way he can create them with his bat that is a concern for the Yankees, especially in what is likely to be a tight divisional race in which every game, play and run is liable to count.

He made a good but risky play in the eighth inning, when he elected to go to second base on Victorino's bouncer over the middle. But with the speedy Alejandro De Aza running, Refsnyder shoveled the ball to Gregorius just barely in time to get the out.

“That’s not an easy play, and it shows you he has confidence in his skills and what he's worked really hard on," Girardi said.

But it was the kind of play a more seasoned infielder might have passed up in favor of the easy, sure out at first.

“I think he played well," Girardi said of Refsnyder.

When asked if Refsnyder would be a Yankee when the season resumed, the manager hedged.

"Obviously, we have four days off, and I have a lot of time to think about things as we move forward," he said.

Clearly, Refsnyder will continue to be a work in progress. He brings youth, energy and a live bat to the Yankees lineup, as well as inexperience and a few rough edges at second base. Odds are he did enough this weekend to insure that when the Yankees take the field next Friday against the Seattle Mariners, he will be on the roster and probably in the lineup.

But there's no guarantee he will be anywhere on the field in the late innings of a tight game.

That is sure to add further intrigue to a second half that already promised to be interesting.