NEW YORK -- The cavalry usually comes en masse, not in a trickle. But when you're playing without half your lineup, you take what you can get.
Curtis Granderson returned to the Yankees on Tuesday and got his first hit of the season on Wednesday. It was the first of what manager Joe Girardi hopes will be a steady stream of healthy, happy pinstriped returns over the coming weeks and months.
The reigning American League East champions have been absolutely assaulted by injuries this year, starting over the winter and continuing into the regular season. The list of players currently on the disabled list includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain.
That's a pretty good team, in itself.
Teixeira appears on track to be next to return, having started to take some batting practice as he attempts to return from a right wrist injury. The wave after that would likely include Youkilis and Cervelli, with Jeter and Rodriguez both probably out until after the All-Star Game.
"I couldn't be happier with my rehab," Teixeira said. "I'm looking at the end of May, sometime around the 30th or 31st maybe, to get back out there playing with the Yankees."
Girardi's troops won't be at full strength for an awfully long time. But Granderson's arrival, combined with Teixeira's continuing progress, provided an opportunity for a few smiles in the Bronx this week.
"I try not to think too much about it," Girardi said, "because I know my job is to manage the guys that I have in the room right now. ... It was exciting to get Grandy back, but I've said all along, wrists can be tricky. So far, so good [with Teixeira]. Knock on wood that everything is going great so far, but you want to see guys play in games before you get too excited."
The Yanks have gotten some remarkable performances from some of their fill-ins. Vernon Wells cranked his 10th home run on Wednesday, and for all-around performance, only Robinson Cano has contributed more to New York's early run. A much-derided acquisition at the time, Wells has taken to his new environs in a big way. Lyle Overbay, another seeming afterthought of a signing, is slugging .500.
Even so, the Yankees need their stars.
Wells is likely to fade from his torrid pace, though as recently as 2010, he had a year not all that unlike what he's doing now. Overbay hasn't slugged so much as .440 in a season since '09, and his composite line over the past six years is .252/.338/.415 (average/on-base/slugging). What they've done is real, and it's tremendously valuable. What they're likely to do from here on out is less than that.
And beyond those two, it becomes more evident what the Yankees are doing without. Yankees shortstops have a .604 OPS, third worst in the AL. Yankees third basemen are tied with the Angels and Astros for fewest home runs in the league. The team as a whole has averaged 3.77 runs per game over its last 31 games, not exactly powerhouse numbers.
Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix, and Nunez all have value when deployed sparingly. All have been asked to do more than they should be thus far. The club would be much better served to have those players back in reserve roles, with the regulars playing like regulars.
So while much credit should go to the gentlemen who have filled in, much anticipation should surround the returns of the guys who are still on the way. The idea -- and it's out there -- that New York will not be better off with Rodriguez, with Teixeira, even with Granderson, is just absurd.
Will the Yankees be better with those players than they've been thus far? Maybe not -- it's tough to keep up a 100-win pace for any team, never mind a team in transition like the 2013 Yankees. Will they be better over the next several months with the returnees than they would be without them? Absolutely. It's not even close. Teixeira, Jeter, Rodriguez, Youkilis, et al, are the cavalry, and the sooner they start arriving, the better off the Yankees will be.