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Plan B: Montero

Nick Johnson scratched due to a sore back yesterday. No further comment, except that Jesus Montero could be ready soon. The injury to Johnson wasn’t serious, but it raises the question of what the Yankees would do if Johnson were forced to spend one of his more typical lengthy stays on the disabled list.

The answer probably depends on when in the season it happened. Were Johnson to go down now, we would probably see some cobbled-together arrangement that featured far too much of Juan Miranda at the plate, Randy Winn in the outfield with Nick Swisher getting a few DH turns, or Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson getting some outfield time in games started by lefties one or the other might have otherwise skipped, with Marcus Thames DHing instead.

Later in the season, we might see Montero. Why later? Three reasons: He’s barely played at Double-A, so some additional time in the Minors isn’t uncalled for. He’s coming off of a hand injury, and you’d like to see him prove he’s fully over it (not only in batting practice) before you trust him with an important job. Keeping him in the Minors for a spell will keep his Major League service time down. These are all legitimate reasons for the delay.

Still, the biggest question may not be any of those things, but if, should Montero be lighting up the scoreboards at Triple-A, the Yankees would be willing to let a young player DH. There has always been a stubborn resistance in baseball to letting a young player without a position just be a hitter, even when that’s the most obvious thing in the world to do. Montero is only 20, but his bat is far ahead of his glove and the latter may never come around. Rather than wasting prime at-bats in the Minors while waiting for a blossoming that may never occur, the wise thing would be to exploit him in the best way you can as soon as the need arises. For this to happen, the Yankees would need to get over a prejudice that is as old as the DH position itself.

For now, that’s all hypothetical, as Johnson is healthy, or as healthy as he gets. I have a nagging suspicion that he may confound us all and stay in the lineup all year. Given how well he can hit at his best, that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, not even if he’s now more of a Dave Magadan type than a slugger. It sure confounds the heck out of the Montero story, but winning first, maturing Jesus second.

Still not much to be read into this early games, but let us sally forth in search of what truths we can glean:

• Felix Pie led off for the Orioles and hit a triple and a home run. He hit extremely well in the second half (.290/.346/.497) while playing excellent defense. There’s an argument to be made that he should be the larger half of a left-field platoon with Nolan Reimold, instead of backing him up. Pie is actually the younger player… In that same game, former Angels prospect Sean Rodriguez, who went to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir deal, hit his second home run in two games. Rodriguez, 25 next month, has some pop for a middle infielder and his best position is second base. I am probably getting ahead of things in imaginging if he keeps up the hot bat-work he could wiggle into the lineup, pushing Ben Zobrist to right field—at least some of the time; manager Maddon hurt himself last fall by not taking full advantage of the multi-positional versatility that players like Zobrist and Rodriguez create. He could use a new lineup every day and not miss an offensive step.

• It’s not a Pirates game if they don’t pitch at least one former Yankee. They got in two on Thursday, Jeff "Scary Fly-Ball Guy" Karstens and Tony Claggett.

• The Jays’ J.P. Arencibia hit a home run off of Zach Miner. Arencibia had a miserable 2009 and the Jays have put any number of lame veterans (including former Yankee Jose Molina) in front of him, but if they’re lucky, Arencibia will be catching for them before the end of the year. In that same game, Austin Jackson again led off and went 1-for-1 with two walks. Perhaps more notable, Dontrelle Willis got through two scoreless innings, though he did walk two.

• It’s just Spring Training, but seeing Emilio Bonifacio lead off for the Marlins again is chilling, as if they didn’t learn anything. The Marlins did tag Brian Bruney, traded for the wrong Rule 5 pick…

• For those of us holding out hope that there will be a knuckleballer in the bigs after Tim Wakefield goes the way of the dodo, it was a sad site to see Charlie Zink of the Cardinals thrashed by the Mets. The more significant development in the game was the grand slam home run by prospect Ike Davis, a shot which provoked fantasies of the Mets having a proper first baseman this year. Davis has had just 233 plate appearances at Double-A, so this is probably just spring training euphoria at work.

• Richie Weeks led off for the Brewers and went 2-for-2; I’d almost forgotten this child of the DL existed. If you had Weeks and Nick Johnson on the same roster, your insurance rates would probably triple.

• If only Kyle Blanks of the Padres were going to be hitting in a fair park, he might do some really interesting things. He hit .288/.366/.548 on the road (small-sample caveats apply, of course)…

Wholesome Reading has been updated and I will continue to add posts over the weekend. Warning: politics, baby!