Up-the-middle offense an issue for Yanks

A right-handed pitcher, Jesse Hahn, was starting for the Athletics Saturday night, but left-handed swinging Stephen Drew was on the bench for the Yankees. This should come as no surprise, of course.

Drew is struggling through another offensively-challenged season, one year after batting a combined .162 for the Yankees and the Red Sox, the lowest figure for any player in the major leagues in 2014. All the time Drew missed before finally signing a contract in late May with no spring training behind him was believed the fault for his severe drop-off in offensive productivity.

That excuse cuts no ice this year, however. Drew, signed in the off-season to a one-year, $5-million deal to be the Yankees’ full-time second baseman and occasional shortstop and now even a backup third baseman, had a full training camp with the team and has started 40 of its first 50 games. His batting average is down to .158, even lower than last year’s, in 152 at-bats.

This is no longer a small sample size for Drew. He has had 292 at-bats over the past two seasons with the Yankees and hit .154. He is hitless in his past 19 at-bats and is also on stretches of 1-for-26 and 2-for-35. A scout I spoke to last week said that Drew has been guilty of trying to hook pitches to take advantage of the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium. Yet in recent games he seems to have mended those ways and has looked to take the ball to the opposite field with weak fly balls to left the result.

Taking Drew’s place in Saturday night’s lineup was Jose Pirela, who had offensive woes of his own. The rookie has one hit in his past 16 at-bats and is hitting .200 in 30 at-bats. Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not say a change is necessarily in the making, but it is clear the club needs more offensive spark from the middle of the infield than it has been getting this season. Shortstop Didi Gregorius took a .210 batting average into Saturday night’s game.

It was only three years ago that those positions were manned by Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, which should be an indication of the kind of fallout with which the Yankees are dealing.

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