On opening day, the catching position looked like a weak link, or at least an area of question, for the New York Yankees. But Chris Stewart, with his dependable glove and now hot bat, has seized his opportunity to provide the answer.
In his last ten games, Stewart has nine hits in 27 at-bats, for a .333 average. He has hit safely in seven of the ten games. In the last seven, he is third on the team in hitting, behind Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano.
And it’s not just the pitches he is swinging at that makes this is so encouraging. It is the ones he is not. In those ten games he has coaxed five walks, showing patience and a keen batting eye. While he does have 20 strike outs in 109 at-bats this season, those five walks represent over half of his total for the year. All of this has raised his batting average to .275.
Let’s face it, any offensive production the Yankees get from the catcher position is a bonus. If Stewart can just keep CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and the rest of the rotation in rhythm he has done his job. So far, he has.
But the signs show that his success is not temporary. For his career, Stewart is a .230 hitter. He has only 38 walks in 460 at bats. But those five walks in the last ten games came in only 27 at-bats. If he continues this trend, he will get better pitches to hit. As pitchers fall behind in the count they are forced to rely more on the fastball.
Stewart also benefits from having Joe Girardi as his manager. As a former catcher, nobody has to tell Girardi the importance of resting Stewart to keep his legs fresh through the season. This is where the value of Austin Romine is sometimes overlooked.
Sure, Romine isn’t hitting yet, but he allows Girardi to pace Stewart. This should pay big dividends as the season wears on. It is the underlying reason why Stewart’s recent hitting success can continue.
With that, one of the Yankees biggest opening day questions will fade away.