Granderson brings flexibility to camp
Outfielder open to moving to left, changing spots in lineup
TAMPA, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson took turns looking over his shoulders with Brett Gardner on Monday, each of them racing back toward center field and watching baseballs safely land in their outstretched gloves.
The Yankees have a nice problem to solve, with at least two players in camp capable of serving as the Opening Day center fielder. On his first morning suiting up, Granderson said that he would be fine if the course of the spring caused him to patrol left field instead.
"People forget that I came up as a left fielder," Granderson said after a workout at the club's complex. "In the Minor Leagues all the way up to Double-A, I didn't start playing center field consistently until my second year in the Minors. Even when I came to the big leagues, I played a few games in left. I have no problem going back over there if that happens to be."
An American League All-Star last season who was acquired from the Tigers in a three-team trade in December, Granderson was thought to be a lock for center field until the Yankees traded the multipurposed Melky Cabrera to the Braves for right-hander Javier Vazquez.
That created an opening where Gardner projects as a contender for an everyday outfield spot, and some observers say the Yankees' defense could be stronger with Gardner in center field and Granderson in left, where he has appeared in 22 Major League games but none since 2007.
Manager Joe Girardi has said he is open to considering the switch this spring, but he made sure to check with Granderson over the winter to make sure he was on board.
"He called and asked, 'Hey, how do you feel about that? Be honest with me, if you don't [like it], let me know,'" Granderson said. "I said I'm able to do that, and move up and down the lineup. I've batted in every spot pretty much except the third spot. I've got no problem moving, switching, bouncing around -- whatever it happens to be."
The Yankees had speculated that Granderson would hit second, but with designated hitter Nick Johnson signed as a free agent and boasting a higher on-base percentage, Granderson might be a better fit lower in the order.
"The main thing I look at, that one time when I first come up, that's the first time I'm in that situation," Granderson said. "Every other situation is going to dictate itself. If there's guys on, you've got to drive them in. If there's not, my job is to get on base. It really doesn't matter to me too much."
Making sure to get acquainted with his new surroundings, Granderson said he spent a few days working with hitting coach Kevin Long in Arizona last month, trying to reach common ground on plate philosophy.
Granderson said one topic they discussed was his approach against left-handed pitchers; Granderson batted just .183 (33-for-180) against southpaws in 2009 and is a career .210 hitter against them.
Long told Granderson that his approach looks fine against right-handers, but his mechanics break down against left-handers, and he tries to hit the ball the other way too much, something they will work on together this spring.
"In order to get to the big leagues, I had to hit left-handed pitching," Granderson said. "I've done it. Just over the course of the past couple of years, I've run into a couple of bumps in the road. But hopefully we can go ahead and straighten that out and get things back to neutral on both sides."
If Granderson can correct that flaw, it seems reasonable for fans to get excited about what he could produce with a full season playing home games at Yankee Stadium, one year after he clubbed a career-high 30 homers for the Tigers in spacious Comerica Park.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman cautioned in December that Granderson "is not going to hit 40 home runs here," even given the more hitter-friendly park effects in the Bronx. Granderson, likewise, said that he wouldn't change his approach just for the shorter right-field porch.
"The power just kind of happens," Granderson said. "I still don't consider myself a power guy. Occasionally the ball happens to get over the fence, but whenever I go into a situation trying to hit home runs, typically the results aren't very positive.
"Whenever I just look for a pitch to drive and hit it, it happens to get over every now and then. That's still going to be the philosophy here, and I hope guys aren't predicting me to do some ridiculous amount of numbers because -- again, just look at me, I'm not that big of a guy. It just kind of happens from time to time."
Granderson said he swapped phone numbers with CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez at his introductory news conference in December, and has also talked to Derek Jeter since being acquired by the Yankees.
He would have liked to have said hello to more of his new teammates, but found that his cell phone directory was rather bare of Yankees -- something else Granderson is looking forward to taking care of this week.
"I had no one to call," Granderson said. "Hopefully in the next couple of days I'll see these guys and be able to exchange numbers with them."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.