At the beginning of the season, Kelly Johnson was viewed as a key piece to the Yankees’ success. He was signed in the off-season as a utility man who could play multiple positions. So far this season Yankees fans have seen him at third base, second base, and first base. Johnson played in the first 14 games for the Yankees. He started all of those games mainly at first base. However since April 16th, and ever since Mark Teixeira came off the disabled list, Johnson has sen his playing time go down steadily. Why is this?
A major reason why the utility man’s role has diminished has been the emergence of rookie Yangervis Solarte, who finished his first month in the majors on a tear. Solarte has taken over a lot of the playing time at third base and has occasionally played second base as well. Also the Yankees have favored seasoned veteran Brian Roberts at second over Johnson. Roberts’ hitting has not been any better than Johnson’s, but his ability to switch-hit has made him a more favorable candidate.
This brings up the main problem. Johnson has had trouble this season hitting against left-handed pitching. Johnson’s batting average has slipped under .200 against southpaws. However, Roberts’ and Solarte’s averages against southpaws are not much better. The sample size is too small right now to judge who will finish with a better average. A major problem with Johnson though is the opportunities he has gotten have come as a pinch hitter. Coming off the bench cold is very hard to do at any level of baseball.
With Brendan Ryan returning soon, it will be tough to have all these infielders. The Yankees already have injury trouble in the pitching department, they do not need another problem in the clubhouse. The beauty of this situation however, is the depth the Yankees will have. If one player is struggling, another can pick him up as a whole. I just hope each player gets the same amount of opportunities as the other. I still believe Kelly Johnson will still be a big piece for the Yankees down the stretch this season.