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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Early-season bumps doing little to stop Yanks

Unlikely sources providing fuel for winning ways following injuries, slumps

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

There was a time a couple of weeks ago when the New York Yankees seemed to be coming undone amid a flurry of injuries and slumps.

Only they haven't.

The Yankees are hanging in there, riding a lineup in which third baseman Yangervis Solarte has been their most consistent offensive player and David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley have done decent work in the rotation.

Bullpen? Nothing to worry about there. Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne and others have done a good job getting the ball to closer David Robertson.

All in all, there's no reason to think the Yanks won't be right back fighting for a playoff spot in September. At 27-23, they're on a pace to win 88 games. In the American League East, they're just two games behind the Blue Jays, the hottest team in baseball.

To have done this the way the Yankees have done it is remarkable. They've used 38 players, including 21 pitchers. Three of their projected five starters -- CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova -- are on the disabled list.

Meanwhile, some of their big-ticket signings are off to slow starts. Brian McCann is hitting .216 and Carlos Beltran is on the DL. Furthermore, Mark Teixeira has missed 15 of the first 50 games.

Organizations reveal themselves in all sorts of way during a six-month season in which every strength and weakness is revealed. The Yankees are always going to be evaluated differently because of their deep pockets..

They make no apology for their resources, because they see that part of the deal as George Steinbrenner's legacy. The Boss would spend whatever needed to be spent to give the Yanks a championship club. The Boss expected results.

Four years after his death, Steinbrenner would be proud of how these Yankees react to adversity. That is, they do not blink. They do not complain. Most important of all, their expectations never change.

"We just have to find a way," manager Joe Girardi will tell you.

"No excuses," general manager Brian Cashman will say.

But Steinbrenner also understood that winning was about more than simply spending the most money. One of the things good organizations do is work relentlessly to build organizational depth. That depth is supposed to begin with the First-Year Player Draft and the international amateur free-agent market.

But the best organizations explore every avenue to find players. They value every roster spot. As you know, the Yanks spent around $500 million last offseason to shore up their roster.

It was the kind of spending spree the Yankees had hoped to never be forced into again. But they were prompted to spend because a player development system they were so confident about two years ago has not produced a steady stream of talent at the big league level.

So the Yanks welcomed McCann, Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka to the family.

Isn't it funny how things work out?

Only Tanaka (7-1) has performed the way the Yankees hoped he would. The other three have long track records, and if they all get going in the second half, the Yanks have a chance to roll back into October.

If they do that, it will be because Cashman built a complete organization, an organization that has delivered talent to the big league roster from all sorts of places.

About those Drafts. Between 2006-09, the Yankees drafted six of their big league pitchers -- Robertson, Warren, Betances, Claiborne, Whitley and Phelps -- as well as backup catcher John Ryan Murphy.

Building a winning team is about exploring other nooks and crannies. Solarte was a different kind of free-agent signing. He spent eight years in the Minor Leagues with the Twins and Rangers. The Yanks saw enough to give Solarte a shot. He wasn't in the original blueprint, but he got to Spring Training and began to hit and didn't stop.

Daley and Nuno were free-agent signings who got little attention. Reliever Matt Thornton and infielders Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts were three signings who got little attention. All have contributed.

To make the playoffs, the Yankees probably need Sabathia and Pineda back in the rotation as well as McCann and Beltran producing in the middle of the lineup. Until those things happen, Girardi has shown again how good he is at getting the healthy players to focus on the task at hand and to ignore the outside noise.

Never once in this stretch has Girardi done anything except express confidence in the 25 players he has for that day. He has had some games in which the Yanks have been four or five players short of a full roster. In that way, this has been a fairly remarkable beginning to a season in which they were widely picked to finish no higher than third in the AL East.

This is one of those seasons when Cashman and Girardi should be proud of how it's playing out. It's a satisfying season for all those scouts and instructors who helped find and develop the talent.

The Yankees would tell you a 27-23 record is nothing special. It is, though: special and then some.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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