One game in, new Yanks at home
Adjusting to pinstripes a joy for Granderson and Johnson
TAMPA, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson stood on top of the first-base line Wednesday, his navy blue socks hiked high as he craned his neck to watch two military planes jet past George M. Steinbrenner Field for the ceremonial opening of Spring Training.
Then, on the same field where a marching band had just completed ringing in the new month with pomp and regalia, manager Joe Girardi trotted to the mound carrying the World Series trophy, a heavy and shiny tribute to a long-awaited accomplishment.
So these are the Yankees, Granderson might have been thinking. But in truth, the All-Star outfielder found himself glancing down at the bright contrast of his pinstripes, trying to get adjusted to a new fit and a most unfamiliar sight.
"Pretty good for the first time having them on," Granderson said. "Being on the field in full uniform, it looked good. Really white."
As the Yankees cut the ribbon on their 33-game Grapefruit League schedule, taking the field for the first time in game action as they march to defend their title, the "A" lineup that trotted out to great cheers actually disappeared rather quickly.
Granderson's pinstriped debut went almost too swiftly, as he had just two groundouts to show for his four innings of duty. But it is a long spring, one where countless ounces of sweat get poured into the work behind the scenes, and Granderson was content to just make sure he was in the right places at the right times.
"The first day is always interesting," Granderson said. "You're trying to get your positioning right. You're trying to get on the field so you're not late, and then you had intros and the trophy presentation today. All that stuff is going through. After the first day, everything starts to level itself out."
The Yankees' revamped lineup -- on Day 1 -- had Granderson hitting in the No. 2 hole between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, but that was more of a ploy to ensure Granderson would get at least one at-bat against Pirates starter Paul Maholm, a left-hander.
Hitting coach Kevin Long is working with Granderson to improve his numbers vs. left-handed pitchers, against whom he hit .183 last season, and Granderson said that Maholm made "great pitches" in getting him to hit a first-inning bouncer to first base.
"Once we get some at-bats like today, then we can assess where we are," Granderson said. "There's nothing we can really talk about yet until we finally get out to see what's still wrong."
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But Girardi is already dropping hints that he favors high on-base percentages over speed in the No. 2 hole, which seems to make it more likely that second-time Yankee Nick Johnson will be pegged there for Opening Night on April 4 at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.
"You want guys who hit in the second hole to get on and set the table for the big guys behind him," Girardi said. "That on-base percentage becomes real important, whether it's through a hit or walk -- however you get on.
"You'd like to have guys that can run, but because of the guys behind him, that becomes less important. You don't have to be a flyer."
Girardi said that he planned to have Johnson in the lineup batting second on Thursday against the Phillies, his first starting assignment since he got back into a Yankees uniform as a free agent.
Johnson entered Wednesday's game in the fifth inning as a defensive substitute for Teixeira, driving an RBI double in New York's three-run sixth inning. While Johnson vows to keep taking his ground balls because he loves it, the Yankees are most interested in his bat, eyeing him as a designated-hitter replacement for Hideki Matsui.
"It's something I'm trying to work on, being ready to hit," Johnson said. "A lot of times, I get too passive. I know it's a fine line in that, so that's something that I continue to work on and try to get better at. When I start going bad, it's because I'm too passive."
After spending the better part of two weeks hitting off soft-tossing coaches, though, these new Yankees were raring to go. Just to hear the noise of a paid crowd -- announced as 9,278 -- was plenty of motivation to get through a nine-inning exhibition that ended with Colin Curtis' walk-off three-run homer.
"Nick Johnson mentioned to me, 'How's it feel to not hit with the batting cage around you?'" Granderson said. "The first day we go into the batting cage, that feels weird. Then you hit every day in the batting cage and the first day without it feels weird. For what it was, it was OK. It wasn't good, it wasn't bad -- it was OK."
Granderson is still trying to get acclimated -- the bat bag stowed over his locker, for example, still bore the Tigers' Old English "D" logo and the No. 28 -- but Johnson says this is the chance at winning October baseball he has been seeking since his original Yankees tenure ended with a December 2003 trade.
"The expectation here is to be the last team out there, and I enjoy that," Johnson said. "You come to Spring Training, you put the work in and try to work toward that ultimate goal."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.