By Rich Mancuso
BRONX, NEW YORK, April 18- Travis Hafner sat on the bench Wednesday night for more than two hours. Bottom of the eighth at Yankee Stadium, he gets the nod from Yankees manager Joe Girardi to pinch hit with two outs. And, as Yankees role players have been doing so well, Hafner connected on the first pitch off Arizona right hander David Hernandez.
The home run to right field was a difference as the Yankees came from behind and defeated the Diamondbacks for the second straight night.
Hafner is one of those supposed minor acquisitions that general manager Brian Cashman believed would be beneficial, along with Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells. And with Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixiera, and Alex Rodriguez disabled with injuries, the role for Hafner is come off the bench, occasional outfield play or inserted as the designated hitter in the lineup.
Pinch hitting is more difficult, as Girardi would say, but Hafner has accepted his role and is ready to contribute when called upon.
“To sit two two-and-a –half hours that has to be tough to do,” commented Girardi about one of his super substitutes that have helped New York win seven of their last eight games.
It was the fourth pinch-hit home run in Hafner’s career, and his fourth of the season. He had 12 all of last year with the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees signed him to a one-year deal in February after spending the last 10-seasons with the Cleveland Indians.
“It’s moments like this that are really special, you remember a long time,” said Hafner about the home run. “Happy to be a part of the team and contribute tonight I was just looking for a good pitch to hit.”
Hafner added, he is enjoying his time with the Yankees and is swinging the bat really well. Time on the bench is not easy, but he knows right now the role is to be ready and he also realizes that when the injured return the playing time may be less.
“Pretty much I am ready the fifth or sixth inning on,” he said. “He, (Girardi) calls your name, be ready. I was looking to be aggressive and get a good pitch to hit and drive and fortunately I got it out.”
Most importantly, he said, “You want to contribute and help the team win.”
Winning pitcher CC Sabathia, expects more from his former Cleveland teammate because he knows how valuable the veteran is. “When Haf walked in I expected him to do a lot more than what he has done,” said Sabathia. That got a laugh, however the Yankees are more than pleased with the production and contribution.
Said Sabathia, “In this ballpark, with his power all it takes is the right pitch and he got that today.”
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