Everything “zen” for A-Rod • 10.03.11
After injuries to his right knee and left thumb hobbled him down the stretch, Alex Rodriguez has started this ALDS 0 for 8. His only trip on base was a first-inning walk issued by Max Scherzer in Game 2.
A-Rod’s woes climaxed in the eighth inning Sunday. Fans showered the third baseman with boos after he popped out to second against Joaquin Benoit.
Rodriguez acknowledged the jeers but said they were “no big deal.”
“There’s no need to even get emotional,” he said. “Again, it’s one pitch at a time. One big hit can change this whole series around. You really have to stay in the moment. Like Phil Jackson, you have to go into a little bit of a zen mode.”
Rodriguez was on deck with two on and two out in the ninth when Robinson Cano —representing the winning run — grounded out to second to end the game. If he had an opportunity, Rodriguez would’ve no doubt had his zen challenged by a steady diet of fastballs from Jose Valverde. The Tigers have attacked A-Rod repeatedly to see whether or not he can respond. Through two games, he hasn’t.
“He’s a tick late on them,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “We’ll talk about that, about being a little more ready for fastballs. I would certainly expect more fastballs, but that’s OK. We want him to see fastballs.”
Long and Rodriguez thought Sunday’s at-bats were a step down from those on Saturday, when Rodriguez was called out for strikes on a questionable call and ripped a deep drive to center that fell a little short of a home run.
Rodriguez would not point to his surgically-repaired right knee or injured left thumb as a problem, although he hasn’t been the same since he returned Aug. 21. A-Rod is just 13 for 76 with five extra-base hits and 10 RBI in the subsequent 21 games. He missed 19 others resting the injuries.
“This time of year, nobody wants to hear ‘banged up,’” he said. “You just basically have to take it one pitch at a time and try to win.”
Long said Rodriguez has already made an impact by forcing the Tigers to pitch to Cano, who tied a club postseason record with six RBI in Game 1. But Rodriguez expects he’ll have opportunities to turn the series directly before it’s over. That could be as soon as tonight against Detroit ace Justin Verlander.
“There’s no question,” he said. “I’m assuming over the next day or two or three there’s going to be some big at-bats that I’ll be ready for. Two outs, men in scoring position. That’s something I relish.”
Long thought it was too soon for fans to boo the Yankees’ 2009 postseason hero.
“If we want to beat him up over two games, certainly people have the right to do that,” Long said. “I just don’t think it’s fair.”
All about a leg kick (but not Jeter’s) • 05.09.11
About two weeks ago, the Yankees started seeing a lot of breaking balls. They had been hitting a home run, then they started facing curveball pitchers like Gavin Floyd, and the lineup began seeing a steady dose of soft offspeed pitches.
Alex Rodriguez’s recent struggles might have developed one curveball at a time.
“He started getting a little bit out in front, started getting some breaking balls,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “We talked about this: Subconsciously, what you do is you get bigger with your leg kick because that obviously is going to make you wait on the ball. Bad move. You want to stay consistent with your leg kick, make sure you let the ball travel without actually raising it up.”
Since April 26, the day Floyd carved through the Yankees lineup for eight innings, Rodriguez has hit .170/.204/.191. Just three days earlier he’d gone 2-for-5 with a home run. When Rodriguez got to the stadium in Arlington yesterday, he was almost immediately with Long, in front of a computer screen, watching video of spring training and the first few weeks of the season.
“I always tell him, ‘You’re quick to make adjustments,’ and this one for some reason took a little bit longer,” Long said. “… He’s a click away from being really, really hot again. Today was a huge step in the right direction. I told him if he continues to do what he did today, it’s going to turn around pretty quickly.”
Throughout this road trip, Rodriguez never seemed especially concerned. It was clear that he was working on things, but two weeks wasn’t enough to make him panic.
“I was happy with all my swings (Sunday),” Rodriguez said. “I wish I’d get three or four hits, but the bottom line is we won a game. Overall, my balance was good, my strike zone control was good, and if I do that, there’s going to be a lot of damage.”
Here’s Long speaking after yesterday’s game. He talked mostly about Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, but he touched on Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson and the offense as a whole.
Jeter sticking with the game plan • 04.11.11
“Everybody is talking about abandoning stuff. That’s so far from the truth,” Long said. “I think it’s wrong to write because that’s not right. He really has stayed to the plan. What you want to do when you step in the box is compete, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Jeter’s lead foot has been easy to spot. That foot hasn’t stayed on the ground for every swing, proving that Jeter’s stride has not completely disappeared. And the stride was the most visible part of the changes.
The stride, though, was only a product of the greater goal, Long said. Primarily, Jeter is working to move directly and quickly to the ball. The important thing is that his foot doesn’t cross over toward the plate.
“He’s trying to keep his stride direction and keep his stride short,” Long said. “You work on it as long as you can, and when you go into the game, really all you can do is compete. And that’s what he’s doing… We talked about getting him more in line. That’s it. When we started it we did it with no stride. He’s picked up at times and set it down. And there’ll be times when he goes in, and we’ll discuss it.”
On Saturday, Jeter made it clear that he didn’t want to keep discussing his swing. The subject seems to have worn thin. Jeter is hitting barely better than .200 – and he’s hitting a lot of balls on the ground again – but Joe Girardi said he won’t make any judgments until Jeter’s had 100 to 150 at-bats.
“Obviously I would love for the results to be there, but all you have to worry about is being comfortable,” Jeter said. “I felt pretty comfortable the last few games. (Sunday) I’m sure you could have thrown anybody out there that was comfortable and it would have been an uncomfortable day for them. As long as I’m comfortable, then I’m confident the results will be there.”
There’s no denying that Jeter’s not hitting right now. At this point, it seems the Jeter followers fall into two camps: Those who believe he’s finished based on what he’s shown so far, and those who are reserving judgment until he’s played more than a week and a half. What Long took exception to was not that Jeter’s struggling, but rather the idea that he’s no longer working on the things he set out to master.
“For somebody to say he’s not doing things the way we set out to do, that’s not the truth because he’s really worked hard at it,” Long said. “I don’t agree with that. I think it’s completely opposite of what he’s been trying to do and trying to accomplish.”
Associated Press photos
I only covered Johnny Damon for about a month in the playoffs, but he’s an instantly likable personality, and the other New York writers seem to always enjoy saying hello to him. Today Damon said he was never close to coming back to the Yankees this winter, but he spoke pretty highly of his time in pinstripes.
“My time in New York was nothing but great,” he said. “I loved every minute of it. I loved going back there. I loved a bunch of the players over there, the coaching staff, the way the organization is. It’s going to be four years I’m always going to remember. Now it’s time for me to help my home team win a championship. It’s been a long time coming for me to have this opportunity to come play for Tampa, so I’m excited about it.”
Here are a few notes and links to wrap up the day.
• At this point I’m guessing we won’t hear anything definitive on Francisco Cervelli until tomorrow. His MRI results are being reviewed by team doctors in New York.
• Nice story by Dan Barbarisi about the Yankees rallying around Red Sox first-base coach Ron Johnson, whose daughter lost her leg in a terrible accident. Johnson used to be Kevin Long’s manager in the minors.
• Great interview with VP of baseball operations Mark Newman. There’s a lot of good stuff about the Yankees minor league system in there, including some notes about guys who could very well make the big league roster this year.
• Writing for Baseball America, George King notes that Brandon Laird could put himself into the big league mix at some point this season as a power hitter who can play all four corners.
• Speaking of Baseball America, they’re reporting that the Yankees have signed 1B Nick Ebert, a non-drafted free agent out of South Carolina.
• Yankees single-game tickets go on sale Saturday morning.
Sorry, went to the wrong page on Yankees.com. Single game tickets are on sale March 11 at this link. Saturday’s ticket thing is for season tickets.
Associated Press photo of Damon
Derek Jeter and his new swing • 02.20.11
Derek Jeter said the conversation about his stride began a few years ago. It wasn’t unusual for him to eliminate the stride through his first few batting practice swings, and one day Jeter told Kevin Long that he’d like to take that approach into the season at some point.
“This was a couple of years ago, and I felt at the time it wasn’t necessary to try to do it,” Jeter said. “Last year we got into a situation where we felt it was necessary, so we tried to cut that down.”
Necessity forced the issue. Jeter went 1-for-7 in Texas on September 10, dropping his average to .260 with a .326 on-base percentage. He sat out on September 11, and used that day to work on his new swing. He put it into action on September 12 — against Cliff Lee — and went 1-for-2 with two walks and a two-out, RBI double that gave the Yankees the lead. That was the start of a .342/.436/.392 slash line through his final 19 games of the regular season.
“It’s really something that you shouldn’t be trying to do during the season, but in that situation, we felt we really had no choice,” Jeter said. “… I was striding late, I was striding too far forward (toward the plate), and I think it was tying up everything in my swing. So toward the end of the year when we made those adjustments, I tried to take the stride out, but I’ve been hitting like that for 30 years so it’s pretty difficult to do in one day in Texas. I’m trying to continue that throughout the offseason. You really can’t tell until you start facing pitching. I feel pretty good about it now, but it’s going to be an adjustment. That’s what spring training is for.”
Jeter said he believes the change will put him in a position to hit more quickly. He won’t be tied up on inside pitches, and the balls he does get to won’t be hit into the ground as often. Could this be proof that his swing is slowing down in his late 30s?
“I think it’s more getting into bad habits,” Jeter said. “Could be the other one, but I’ll go with the first one.”
For more on the technicalities of what’s going on with Jeter’s swing, Kevin Long gave a tremendous demonstration this afternoon in the Yankees clubhouse. Some of it was explained physically, but I think the text of Long’s words paints a pretty good picture. Everything in italics is quoting Long.
This is a lot of text, but I think it’s worth it. Long’s terrific when he’s breaking down a specific hitter’s swing, and a specific hitter’s approach.
What exactly are you changing?
The issue with the stride foot is when it crosses over and goes this way (toward the plate) and the ball is coming inside, you don’t have a path to get to that pitch. Now, let’s say a cutter from (Jon) Lester is coming in at 93 mph. You’re going to try to do what Jeter does best, which is stay inside of it. So he’s going to try to do this (keep his hands and body inside) and try to stay into it. You can’t do it (when you cross over). Now, by staying square and going up on his toe and going to here (mimics the beginning of an inside swing) he’s creating an avenue for his hips to get through and to become square to the baseball.
Why so many ground balls last year?
When you block off and you can’t clear your hips and you hit the ball, you’re basically smothering the baseball. You don’t have an avenue to get the barrel to it. If we’re square and I go here (clean swing at an inside pitch) and I can clear my hips, it allows by bat head to get there, and it allows me to elevate the baseball a lot more.
If it worked before, why doesn’t it work now?
I think the game has changed where the pitching is better. This cutter is a serious pitch that’s basically been brought into existence in the past two or three (years). Mariano’s had it, but nobody else. Every guy has a cutter now. You’ve got a Jon Lester cutter that’s coming in at, let’s say 95. Try to stay inside that pitch. You can’t do it. Guys have better command in and out I would say than they ever have. There’s no secrets. People pitch Jeet in, and he sees a lot of pitches inside. This will free him up in there and at least give him the opportunity to maybe get to those balls and pull them correctly.
The other thing is, we’re tying to shorten his swing. We’re trying to get it to be more direct to the baseball. It’s kind of a catch 22 because there wasn’t a lot of length before other than, he’d try to catch it in here and he couldn’t get the ball in the air because he was closing off.
Will this change the kind of hitter he is?
Does it mean you’ll probably see more balls to left field and left center? I think so. I don’t know. I think it’s going to allow him and give him the opportunity to get to some pitches and do some things with some balls that he might not have been able to do in the past… I don’t think it’s going to be his approach. I think his approach is still going to be going the other way, but I think it’s going to be much easier to react and he’s going to find that I can get to some of those pitches very easy and pull them.
What if pitchers adjust and start pitching him away?
That’s his strength. If they want to go to his strength, then go to his strength and he’ll abuse people… As long as he’s close to the plate and he’s able to hit that outside pitch without reaching and without striding in (he’ll be fine). We already talked about he’d probably have to get a little bit closer to the plate.
Did you wait too long to make this change?
I asked Jeet, I said, ‘Did we wait too long to do it?’ He said, ‘In my opinion, no.’ And in my opinion we didn’t wait too long. I think you have to let this thing play out a little bit.
What’s the role of age in this situation?
I’ll just talk about it from my personal standpoint. I don’t feel as good any more as I used to. There’s got to be a point in time when things are going to slow down. Is that part of this equation? I’m sure it is somewhat. How much? I don’t think any of us know that. But when you get older, things become a little more difficult. The big thing is keeping Jeet’s durability, keeping his body fresh. I think Joe does a good job picking spots for him to sort of be fresh with his body and active with his body. I’m sure he’s slowed down a little bit. I would say that. Is Derek Jeter’s best baseball behind him? I wouldn’t say that. I’m not ready to go there.
Associated Press photo of Jeter from today’s press conference
Jeter begins early work in Tampa • 01.26.11
This is from The Associated Press.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Derek Jeter has added a new dimension to his pre-spring training workout.
The New York Yankees captain, coming off a down season, worked in a batting cage Wednesday with hitting coach Kevin Long.
The 36-year old Jeter has a career batting average of .314, but hit just .270 last season. Long and Jeter are scheduled to have another session on Thursday at the Yankees’ minor league complex.
Jeter started on-field drills two weeks ago.
Also, new Yankees catcher Russell Martin also worked with Long and had a throwing session in the outfield.
Also, a quick reminder that Brian Cashman is serving drinks from 6 to 9 tonight at Foley’s (18 W. 33rd Street, near 5th Ave). I’ll be down there, and I know some of my beat friends are planning to stop by as well. Come on out. It’s actually for a good cause.
Associated Press photo
Kevin Long understands the appeal of the home run derby, but he left no doubt yesterday: If he had his way, Robinson Cano would not be participating.
“I would prefer that he’s not involved in it, but that’s not my decision,” the Yankees hitting coach said. “…It’s just an exhausting process. It takes a lot out of you. It’s taxing. You see guys come back after the home run contest and it affects their swing.”
Long isn’t worried about Cano coming back suddenly hitting nothing but fly balls, but he’s worried that the exhaustion of trying to hit home run after home run might lead to subtle changes. The contest, he said, is a big difference from batting practice. Cano will be trying “launch” every pitch.
“It’s not so much altering a swing,” Long said. “You know he’s going to try to pull the ball quite a bit. I don’t think it’s going to affect his swing more than it’s just going to take a toll on his body.”
Joe Girardi said pretty much the exact same thing — “For me it’s fatigue because I don’t think Robby would change a whole lot,” Girardi said — but Alex Rodriguez said he would recommend Cano take advantage of the opportunity. He sees no harm in the derby.
“I’m not going with the mind to just hit the ball the farthest or anything like that,” Cano said. “Just go out there like I swing in BP. Regular swing and don’t try to do too much.”
Here’s Long talking about Cano in the derby.
And here’s Cano.
Today in The Journal News • 03.14.10
Kevin Long’s playing career stalled in Triple-A, but he got to the major leagues as a hitting coach to current all-stars and future Hall of Famers. “It’s not about having a name,” Jorge Posada said. “It’s having your back, and he has my back.”
Marcus Thames has plenty of major league at-bats, but he’s fighting to stay on the big league roster this spring. This is his second stint in pinstripes, and he’s trying to win a spot on the bench despite a minor league deal that offers no guarantees.
On Saturday, Alfredo Aceves continued making his case that he’s a legitimate option for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation. Today’s notebook also has items on Curtis Granderson playing left field, Javier Vazquez making his second start and the Yankees making their first spring cuts.
Wrapping it up from The Boss • 03.09.10
CC Sabathia wasn’t good today. That much was obvious and, equally obviously, he’ll work on his mechanical issues during his side sessions so he can be better the next time out. Such is life in spring training.
While Sabathia was discussing poor mechanics on one side of the room, however, Nick Johnson was on the other wall talking about his improved mechanics at the plate. Johnson has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long on turning his back foot through (as opposed to sliding), and he said that adjustment has allowed him to start pulling the ball more. Witness what he did this afternoon, when he crushed two home runs, both of which went to the right-center part of the park.
Someone mentioned Johnson, who has a career-high of 23 home runs, possibly surpassing that this year if he’s able to pull the ball at Yankee Stadium. “I don’t like to put any numbers on guys,” Joe Girardi said. “(But) we know he’s a really, really good hitter.”
Curtis Granderson was also pleased with his fifth-inning triple, particularly since it allowed him to get out and run a little. “Nice to stretch the legs,” he said. Granderson has been in touch with several of his former teammates in Detroit – he recently had dinner with Dontrellle Willis – and he’s looking forward to facing them tomorrow in Lakeland. “That’s one of the days on the calendar that’s marked,” he said.
Here’s Girardi’s postgame audio. You might notice a long pause early on – that was when he got up to turn off the TV so that it would be a little quieter.