<
>

Who's on first? Mark Teixeira's injury leaves the Yankees wondering

BALTIMORE -- The manager who has all the answers was suddenly, genuinely stuck for one. Asked who would play first base for the New York Yankees if Mark Teixeira is out for any significant length of time -- or for Saturday, even -- Joe Girardi could offer only this: "I have no idea. I've got to talk to my general manager."

Teixeira left Friday night's game against the Baltimore Orioles -- a game in which the Yankees blew a 5-2 lead to lose 6-5 -- in the bottom of the third inning after telling Girardi his right knee had locked up on him. Teixeira was sent to the Orioles' doctor for a look-see and then to a hospital for an MRI. The results were not available after the game, but with the Yankees this season and Teixiera the past three or four, it is always prudent to assume the worst.

As a result, one-third of the way into a season in which they have proven to be one-third of a bad team, the Yankees have no idea who will be playing first base on Saturday -- or Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, for that matter.

"Ref did fine," Girardi said of rookie Rob Refsnyder, who was rushed into emergency duty when Teixeira came out of the game. "He made two plays, and he looked OK."

When asked if he was comfortable with Refsnyder, a live bat without a position, playing first base on a regular basis, Girardi hedged his bets.

"Yeah, I mean, he did the job today," he said. "But he hasn’t played it a lot. But it’s something, like I said, we’ll talk about."

The obvious second-guess, of course, is that a backup first baseman is probably something the Yankees should have talked about months ago -- as far back as Feb. 2, to be precise, the day Greg Bird, the heir apparent to Teixeira in the Yankees' farm system, underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum that will sideline him for this year and probably part of 2017.

The Yankees thought they could get by with an amalgamation of utility man Dustin Ackley, cameos by catchers Austin Romine and Brian McCann, and occasionally third baseman Chase Headley. It was best-case scenario-ing of the worst kind, especially considering Teixeira has not been healthy enough to play a full season since 2011.

Even the Yankees' sketchy plan went up in smoke Sunday, when Ackley dislocated his shoulder in a game against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida. He underwent season-ending surgery a few hours before Teixeira's knee locked up. To make things worse, Girardi announced before the game that McCann had suffered a hyperextended left elbow while lunging for an errant slider Wednesday and would be unavailable for a couple days.

Even if you discount Teixeira's impotent bat -- he is hitting .180 and hasn't homered since April 13 -- you must respect his glove and how it saves the Yankees' infielders errors and the pitching staff runs. All of a sudden, the Yankees went from one everyday first baseman to none, save for a raw rookie who didn't own a first baseman's mitt until a couple days ago.

"It’s the reality of the game," Girardi said. "You never know what’s going to happen on a daily basis. So we’ll find out pretty soon, and we’ll have to deal with it."

An outfit such as the New York Yankees' neglecting to enlist a backup first baseman is sort of like a hospital forgetting to buy a backup generator. You know that sooner or later, you're going to need it. For the Yankees, that time came sooner than they might have expected, but still, there was no excuse for pretending it would never happen.

After the loss to the Orioles, who moved three percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox at the top of the AL East, Girardi acknowledged the obvious about his team, which is now 25-29 and 6 1/2 games back in fourth place.

"We’re not where we want to be," he said. "We’re going to have to play a lot better in the next two-thirds to get where we want to get."

That will require, among other things, a major league-ready first baseman. Refsnyder, who has shown no trepidation at the plate in his brief return to the big leagues (batting .308 with four hits in his past 17 at-bats), is still very much a work in progress in the field. That's why the Yankees moved him from second base to right field to third base to, now, first base.

Predictably, Refsnyder said the right things when asked if he felt ready to play first base on an everyday basis -- "If that's what Joe needs, that's what I'll do" -- but he acknowledged that his sum total of experience at the position amounted to "a couple of days."

"What I’m focused on now is just getting game reps and trying to be as comfortable as possible," he said.

The Yankees do have a few options in Triple-A. The obvious one is Nick Swisher, who moved to first base/DH when his 35-year-old knees no longer permitted him to play outfield. But he is hitting just .243 with a .621 OPS for Scranton and is being significantly outperformed by minor league teammate Chris Parmalee, who is tied for the team lead with seven home runs, has a .785 OPS and is 28 years old. Neither is on the 40-man roster, but that could be easily rectified by moving Ackley to the 60-day DL.

This all might have been solved, of course, had Alex Rodriguez not thrown in the towel on his own attempt to learn to play first base, which would have given Girardi the further option of moving Carlos Beltran out of right field and into the DH spot, where he rightly belongs.

"Well, he just wasn’t comfortable doing it," Girardi said ruefully. "So you have to deal with it in another way."

For the Yankees, that day has come. Right now, like Abbott and Costello, the team has no answer to the age-old question: "Who's on first?"

Unlike for Abbott and Costello, the question is not funny when the Yankees ask it, even if the answer is every bit as unsatisfying.