Elliot Johnson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2002 – out of high school. In his six seasons in the minors, to date, he’s fashioned a lifetime batting average of .250 with an OPS of .702 (in 2,205 AB). He’s played second base during most of his minor league career. He’ll be 24-years old, tomorrow.
During the top of the ninth inning of today’s exhibition game between the Rays and the Yankees, Johnson attempted to barrel over Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli as he tried to score a Willy Aybar double. Johnson lowered his right shoulder into Cervelli and the impact resulted in a fractured right wrist for the Yankees catching prospect.
Johnson’s reaction on the play, via mlb.com -
“I’m not trying to hurt anybody, especially in a Spring Training game,” Johnson said. “I hope he doesn’t lose his job. But I’m trying to show these guys what I can do. I’m just trying to score the run. Looking back on it, I’d have to say I’d probably do the same thing.”
“With the time that I had there, the instinct was to slide and be out, or hit him and see if I could pop the ball loose,” Johnson said.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what this is all about on this play. In summary, you have a player who is an absolute non-prospect trying to make an impression that his team will notice. And, it seemed to work. Note Rays manager Joe Maddon from the same mlb.com report:
“I loved the hardball,” Maddon said. “We’re playing it hard, we’re playing it right. It was a bang-bang play at the plate. I couldn’t tell exactly where the catcher was in regard to the plate. He was trying to score a run right there, and that was part of the game.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi: “I think it’s uncalled for. I’m all for playing hard, but I don’t think it’s the time (of year) when you run over a catcher. … He’s got to go get X-rays, from a spring-training game. I don’t understand it. During the season, I’m all for it. It happens in the season. I understand that. As a (former) catcher, I understand that. Spring training — I don’t believe in it.”
Was it just good ol’ fashioned “hardball”? Or, was it a “bush league play”? I’m sure the Rays are convinced of the former and many Yankees think it’s the latter.
This will be an interesting test for Joe Girardi. If this had happened in Yankeeland, under Joe Torre in the post-Zimmer era, Torre would have been upset, voiced his opinion, and then settled down over a nice warm cup of green tea. And, that would have been the end of it.
Will Joe Girardi elect to turn the other cheek and allow this to quell down and fade to black ala’ Torre? Or, should the Rays batters be on their toes the next time the Yankees face them?
The Yankees will visit the Rays in their spring training camp next Wednesday – and I believe that Andy Pettitte will start that game for the Yankees. If I had to make a guess at this point, I would offer that, at some point in this game, a Rays batter gets a fastball in the thigh.
Just a message to Joe Maddon and the Rays as to what “hardball” is really all about.