Kathy Willens
October 09, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) Joe Girardi sounded a bit defensive.

The Yankees manager went to his office Friday for the first time since New York was eliminated. After wasting a seven-game AL East lead and finishing six games behind Toronto - the largest blown lead in Yankees history - New York's return to the postseason after a two-year absence lasted nine innings.

''I did what I thought was right every day. The bottom line is we didn't win, so that's going to be questioned,'' Girardi said. ''People thought that I could have done better. I understand that, and so you live with it.''

In the first season after Derek Jeter's retirement, the Yankees finished 87-75, three more wins than last year and their best record since 2012.

But Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann all slumped in the final months of the season, and relievers Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson lost some consistency.

''Everyone during the course of the season is physically going to get worn down because it's a grind,'' Girardi said. ''But one of my oldest players played as much as anyone and thrived in the situation, a Carlos Beltran.''

Girardi benched Ellsbury in Tuesday's wild-card game against Houston in favor of Gardner and righty-hitting Chris Young. Gardner went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts as the Yankees got just three hits and lost 3-0.

''As far as fence mending, that's to be determined, I guess, as I talk through things with all the players over the course of the winter,'' Girardi said. ''Did it work out? No. But the question I'm going to be (asked), you know, if you would have played Ells, would it have been better? Would it have been three runs better? I don't know that.''

He defended his use of Betances, who gave up all six of his homers from July 1 on, including three in September.

''I think he became a little human, that's all,'' the manager said.

Girardi pointed out Betances' pitch count: 1,370 this regular season vs. 1,365 last year. For emphasis, he softly banged a hand on the table in front of him as he spoke.

''I have a card in my locker that had the amount of pitches, the amount of innings, the amount of games for April of 2014, `15. May. I had it all written down,'' Girardi said. ''It wasn't like I wasn't paying attention.''

When the Yankees arrived at spring training, they were not sure what Alex Rodriguez would provide following his year-long drug suspension. Beltran (elbow) and Gardner (abdomen) were coming off surgery, Mark Teixeira's 2013 wrist injury was slow to heal, and they were not sure how many innings they could count on from Masahiro Tanaka (partially torn elbow ligament), Michael Pineda (shoulder muscle strain) and Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery).

Didi Gregorius, who had never hit consistently at the big league level, was taking over from Jeter at shortstop. Andrew Miller and Betances were competing to become New York's fourth closer in four years.

A-Rod and Teixeira rebounded, and Gregorius improved each month. By mid-August, 21-year-old Luis Severino was promoted to the rotation, and 22-year-old Greg Bird took over at first base after Teixeira broke a shin.

''I think a lot of those questions that we had going into spring training have answered,'' Girardi said. ''I think we saw improvement out of players during the course of the season - a Didi. Arguably you'll have a Severino for a full year. Michael has proven that he can stay healthy. You'll have more pitchers that we expect to be back and not so many questions marks.''

New York scored 764 runs, up from 633 last year and second in the major leagues behind Toronto, but its 4.05 ERA ranked 17th and its average of 5.72 innings per start was 21st. While top pitchers such as David Price and Johnny Cueto were available in the trade market in July, the Yankees declined to deal their kids.

''I think the organization made the right decisions not giving up if you want to call them your top prospects, your blue chip prospects just for a two-month rental,'' Girardi said.

But come November, Price, Cueto, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann will be available as free agents - likely commanding large contracts that extend past their prime years.

Acquiring a right-handed-hitting second baseman such as Howie Kendrick, who also is eligible for free agency, could be another goal. After the switch-hitting Teixeira got hurt, the Yankees struggled against left-handers.

''We expect to have Tex back and healthy, and that adds a big right-handed bat,'' Girardi said. ''And depending on who your second baseman is, that could a substantial bat, too, which changes our club.''

Girardi wasn't quite ready to shift his focus to next year. He still seemed perturbed at the Yankees' short October.

''I saw a sign coming in, said 122 days till spring training,'' Girardi said. ''I was like, oh my gosh. I quite wasn't ready for that sign yet.''

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