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Yankees need Jose Pirela, but can't afford to rush him back

The Yankees can't afford to rush Pirela back from his concussion but, at the same time, they desperately need his bat and his defensive flexibility.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like we can't escape hearing about concussions in sports. Soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, and, of course, football have all adopted rules intended to decrease the number of concussions. Those sports have also bettered their standard of care for players suffering from head injuries.

Jose Pirela suffered a concussion a few days ago. What's troubling is that he's suffered one in the past, and it was worse.

The head injury, sustained in a game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, was not Pirela’s first, nor his most severe. Pirela said he had suffered headaches and vomiting after being hit in the head by a pitch in 2012 in a minor league game. He missed nearly six weeks before the symptoms went away.

I'm glad to hear that he's feeling good, and I hope he's not just saying that because he's feeling the pressure to seize his moment to make the big league roster. I think (to my surprise), Pirela was on his way to a spot on the big league roster. The early injury to Brendan Ryan created an opportunity for the 25-year-old Pirela to make the team as a backup infielder and fifth outfielder. Pirela was making the most of the opportunity, hitting .370/.433/.630 with five extra base hits in 30 plate appearances.

Without Pirela on the roster, Ryan is the likely backup to Stephen Drew, and Alex Rodriguez or Ryan will be backing up Chase Headley. Without Pirela, Ryan (again) or Drew is backing up Didi Gregorius, even though the Yankees have spent as much time as possible stressing that Drew is not being considered a shortstop going forward. Without Pirela, Ramon Flores has as good a shot as anyone to make the team as the last bat off the bench. There's still time for Pirela to recover, of course. Maybe he'll pick up hitting right where he's left off, but that feels like a long shot doesn't it?

There's been a lot of thought given to how the Yankees' pitchers will make it through their first two months when they basically have no scheduled off-days. We've heard about six-man rotations and spot starters and extra rest for CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. A hard hitting debut from Jose Pirela could have been this year's Yangervis Solarte, spelling most of the infield and even a corner outfielder during that long early stretch. Joe Girardi's got to be giving just as much thought to getting Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira through the first half of the season intact as he's given to the rotation's contingency plans. I find it heart-wrenching to think how well Pirela was playing, especially knowing how long most player's performance suffers even after concussion symptoms have faded away. For a team as offense starved as the Yankees may be, a super-utility player could be the difference between a fast start and an early panic.

Here's to a speedy recovery, Jose. The Yankees are going to need you once you're ready.