NEW YORK -- Tommy Milone was avoiding Rob Refsnyder. By the time the rookie utility player's third at-bat came around in the fourth inning of the Yankees' 5-3 victory over the Twins on Friday night, Refsnyder hadn't yet gotten anything to hit. Milone had been working him away all game, mixing fastballs and changeups to keep him just off balance enough to force a strikeout and a flyout to center field.
But the third at-bat was a little different. Perhaps emboldened by his earlier success or perhaps just in need of an out pitch with runners on the corners in a tie game, Milone grooved Refsnyder a fastball in. The youngster turned on the pitch, pushing the ball 103 mph, according to Statcast™, into the left-center-field gap and plating Didi Gregorius to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead they wouldn't give up.
The exchange was representative in more ways than one of Refsnyder's recent weeks. Over his last nine games, Refsnyder is hitting .379 with five runs scored and three RBIs. More impressively, though, he's played eight of those nine games primarily at first base, a position he's only been playing for a month.
In manager Joe Girardi's mind, the poise that Refsnyder has displayed in not letting the defensive transition seep into his offensive game is stunning, especially for a player with as little experience at the Major League level as Refsnyder.
"I think it tells you a lot about the young man," Girardi said. "To be able to say, 'Hey, you're playing first base,' when he had never done it before and to continue to be productive at the plate, I think it just tells you that he's not nervous in his surroundings. He's not afraid to make a mistake. All players are going to make mistakes, but I think Ref's head is really in the game and I think he really wants it and he'll do whatever it takes."
Refsnyder offered a different assessment.
"To be honest, if I'm self-evaluating, I think I could've done a better job with some earlier games," Refsnyder said. "You kind of put that in the past, but looking back, I think I could've done better."
Even if that belief is an honest one, it might not be the image Refsnyder wants to put out right now. Mostly because he just lost his job.
Refsnyder has certainly done enough, but with first baseman Mark Teixeira coming off the disabled list Saturday, Refsnyder will no longer be needed at first. His roster spot isn't guaranteed, either, although Girardi wouldn't confirm who will be sent down to make room for Teixeira on the roster. It's nonetheless unlikely that Girardi will want to carry five bench bats, meaning the decision figures to come down to either Ike Davis, the odd first baseman out, or Refsnyder, whose status as a utility player might be overlapping with Ronald Torreyes' role.
Refsnyder deflected the speculation, instead heaping praise on the veteran slugger the Yankees are getting back.
"We need Tex back," Refsnyder said. "To have that bat, a switch-hitter from both sides, Gold Glove defense. We need Tex back. I'm just trying to do my best job every day and let the people in charge of that make those kinds of decisions."