Experiment moves Granderson to LF, Gardner in center

TAMPA — Provided a choice, Curtis Granderson would continue to dig his cleats into the most sacred patch of baseball grass in the universe: center field at Yankee Stadium.

Yet, there is a very strong chance that left fielder Brett Gardner will trade places with Granderson, because manager Joe Girardi is going to experiment with the new alignment in the exhibition season that opens tomorrow.

Girardi said he is “toying’’ with making the switch to see if the outfield defense is better with Granderson in left and Gardner, a former center fielder who is faster than Granderson and throws better, in center.


While it’s not in Granderson’s nature to rant and rave about being moved, he clearly would prefer to remain in the middle of the outfield.

“I would love to play center, that’s where I have been playing,’’ Granderson said yesterday after a workout at George M. Steinbrenner Field in which he took fly balls in left and spent a round of batting practice in the position. Gardner did the same in center. “At the same time I want to play. No matter where that happens to be, that’s where I want to be at. I am playing. If I get benched, that’s a different story.’’

The talk of switching Granderson and Gardner had been in the air a while, so Granderson went to Girardi to see what the plan was.

“I wanted to know what was going on,’’ said Granderson, who has played 1,090 games in center field and 13 in left. He hasn’t played left since 2007 when he appeared in one game there. “I wanted to make sure [Girardi] and I are on the same page. He said the decision would be made soon and it’s not anything final. It’s something that we are going to try out and see how it goes.’’

Girardi says he is simply taking a look at the switch to see if it improves the Yankees’ defense. What he won’t say is that he noticed a drop in Granderson’s ability to play center field. If Girardi hadn’t seen a decline, why even toy with it after watching Granderson play center for the prior three seasons?

While others may disagree, Granderson believes he hasn’t deteriorated in the field.

“I feel like I was playing pretty well. You talk about all these new stats that come out and I don’t know 100 percent, but in terms of the evaluation I feel like balls I should have gotten to I did,’’ Granderson said. “I did a decent job of keeping our team in the ballgame.’’

Gardner, a center fielder throughout his minor league career, has no qualms going back to center.

“I feel more comfortable going [to center] than I would to left field. I always will even if I play left field for six or eight more years,’’ said Gardner, who started Game 4 of last year’s ALCS against the Tigers in center when Girardi benched Granderson’s frigid bat.

Girardi isn’t married to the new alignment, which likely will debut Sunday at home against Toronto.

“We are going to toy with it and see if we like it,’’ Girardi said. “If we do, we will stay with it, and if we don’t, we won’t.’’

There are two drawbacks to making the move. One, should Gardner get hurt (he played in 13 games last year because of an elbow injury), Girardi would have to switch Granderson back to center, which could play with Granderson’s mind. Two, moving to left could cause Granderson to regress at the plate, where he hit 43 homers and drove in 106 runs despite striking out 195 times and batting a career-low .232 last season.

“I don’t think so, I have switched up and down the lineup and I have switched teams,’’ Granderson said of being affected at the plate. “I have done everything. It’s another change and change is a good thing.’’


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