TORONTO -- With the Yankees' chances of securing a playoff berth dwindling -- Fangraphs.com has their chances of earning an AL wild-card spot down to 1.4 percent -- manager Joe Girardi seemed to be backpedaling on Friday from two things that seemed reasonably sure to happen earlier in the week: That second baseman Starlin Castro likely would return to action during this four-game series against the Blue Jays, and that the Yankees would continue to play the kids who had seemingly brought a burst of enthusiasm into their previously moribund clubhouse.
Castro, who strained a hamstring last Saturday in a game against Boston, was scheduled to hit in the cage for the first time since the injury on Friday, and perhaps attempt to run the bases on Saturday in anticipation of a possible Sunday or Monday return.
But Girardi walked that idea way back before Friday's game. “I wouldn’t count on it,” he said. “He’s progressing OK. (But) I wouldn’t think it would happen.”
Asked why the change in his thinking on Castro, Girardi said, “Nothing’s really happened. I was just talking with the trainers every day, what they think. I’m not saying he won’t, but I’m not counting on him is what I’m saying. We just have to make sure he's OK.”
And Girardi's lineup for the series opener seemed to indicate that the manager believes his team's best chance of sneaking into the postseason tourney is by playing a mix of veterans and rookies. Although Mark Teixeira was on the bench -- he is 4-for-21 (.190) with 10 Ks against Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano -- the manager chose to play Billy Butler at first base instead of Tyler Austin, who has one hit in his last 15 at-bats and has not started a game since Sept. 15. Girardi also chose to stay with Aaron Hicks in right field and Ronald Torreyes at second base over Rob Refsnyder.
Asked why he opted for Butler and Hicks, Girardi said, “We still have a shot. I’m still playing young guys and I’m still playing some of the older guys. Some of the older guys have had success off of Liriano and they’re in there today. I really haven’t changed my thinking.”
One “old guy” conspicuously not playing is Brian McCann; Austin Romine is catching Bryan Mitchell and Gary Sanchez is the DH. “I can't catch Gary every day, and Romine’s been catching Mitch, and I thought he did a really good job (last Saturday in Boston). And the DH really comes down to Tyler or Sanchez, in a sense. It’s hard not to put Sanchez in the lineup.”
Asked if the energy surge that was sensed in his clubhouse when Sanchez, Austin, Refsnyder and Aaron Judge were first brought up had started to wane, Girardi said, “The energy is still in that clubhouse. It is still in there and they have done a good job. It’s just kind of the way things are working out. They’re going to play, still. Part of it is that we added Billy (Butler); that’s a new guy in the mix that we didn’t have before.”
Girardi still has not settled on a starter for Monday's game, which became an issue when Masahiro Tanaka was scratched due to a forearm strain. Luis Severino, who has worked well out of the bullpen, remains a possibility unless Girardi needs him in relief in Sunday's game. “I probably won't decide until Monday,” he said.