Yankees' lefty hitters getting it right
Damon, Abreu, Matsui, Cano play key roles in resurgence
NEW YORK -- If the Yankees have proven nothing else of late, they've shown that there is still plenty left. As in, from the left side of the plate.
For portions of the season, all four of the Yankees' primary left-handed hitters -- Bobby Abreu, Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui -- saw their offensive production dwindle into milk-box territory: have you seen this man's batting average?
That no longer applies.
"We're playing better, and I think the big reason why we're playing better is the ability of our left-handed hitters," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "Their ability is finally showing up. We knew it was there, it was just more of a mystery why they weren't hitting."
Each case was different, but the underlying reason was consistent with the struggles that dug the Yankees a hole in the American League East, leaving them looking up at an eight-game deficit as they welcomed their off-day Monday.
The Yankees knew that their left-handedness might create an issue as they moved forward to Opening Day (Jason Giambi made five lefties in a motley crew), but a general assumption was that the Yankees could survive because their left-handed hitters had fared well against both lefties and righties historically.
That didn't necessarily repeat, and as part of those results, the Yankees have gone just 11-17 against left-handed starters. Finally, they believe they can see the corner; if it hasn't already been turned, it soon could be.
"I think at this time, for some reason everyone has put it together," Abreu said. "It looks like a coincidence, but we've got such good left-handed hitters in the lineup. Everything's worked out fine. If everyone can do little things in the lineup and do his own job, we'll see the final results."
Abreu could attest to the power of individual performances. While Damon likes to proclaim -- partly out of self-deprecation and partly out of self-confidence -- that if he hits, the team can hit, Abreu is an even more pronounced example of contributing to victories.
In 24 games since July 2, Abreu is batting .347 with four home runs and 24 RBIs, including nine doubles and 18 runs scored.
"I think things have just started to go well," Abreu said. "If you've seen me all year long, I've been hitting the ball all over the place and hitting it good. But I guess right now, the balls are going through."
The Yankees could not have had a recent stretch like they did, scoring 63 runs in a five-game span for the first time since Ruth and Gehrig led the charge in 1931, without all nine members of their order contributing.
Much of that resurgence may reside within the tablesetter. Since the beginning of the Yankees' four-game series at Tampa Bay, Damon's bat and body seem to have had a spurt of renewed life.
Playing in nine of New York's 10 games since July 20, Damon is batting .350 with 11 runs scored and 10 RBIs, logging all but one of the games at the top spot in the Yankees' order while shuffling between left field, center field and designated hitter.
|"I think at this time, for some reason everyone has put it together. It looks like a coincidence, but we've got such good left-handed hitters in the lineup. Everything's worked out fine. If everyone can do little things in the lineup and do his own job, we'll see the final results."|
|-- Bobby Abreu|
After grounding into a double play for the first and second times all season on Saturday -- the latter of which proved to be a dagger in a mounting ninth-inning rally -- the .247-batting Damon tried to atone Sunday by stroking three hits and scoring four runs against the Orioles, driving in a pair.
"You can forget everything that's happened so far; that doesn't matter," Derek Jeter said Sunday. "We're trying to win games now. From this point on, if Johnny swings the bat well, he's going to help us out. We're a different team when Johnny's on base."
That much, Damon has been able to provide. Even when he wasn't able to hack his way on base, Damon has proven adept at working counts and garnering free passes, working a season-high 21 walks in July alone.
"It cuts it with the team because they know how important that is, but unfortunately the stats rats out there don't really think it's too important to see a lot of pitches and make the players around you better," Damon said.
The power has also arrived in force, with no more notable contributor than Matsui, whose 11 home runs in July are a new career high.
Matsui had hit safely in 23 of 24 games dating back to July 3 before taking an 0-for-5 collar in the Yankees' 10-6 victory on Sunday at Baltimore, a span he'd batted .364 over with 22 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
"I've been able to make some small adjustments against pitchers, and that's probably helped quite a bit," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I haven't really changed that much. ... I think it was just a matter of time."
Some, like the 24-year-old Cano, have relied on positive reinforcement to shrug off a slow start. Cano has worked extensively with hitting coach Kevin Long on improving his selectivity, including batting practice drills that involve not swinging at pitches.
In his last 26 games (since the Yankees experimented for a day by batting him third against the A's), Cano is batting .404 with five home runs, 21 RBIs and 21 runs scored. Twelve of his 40 hits have been for extra bases.
"I've been doing the same things," Cano said. "I get here early, keep working hard and do the same things every day. When you're not getting hits or doing your job, you start thinking and trying to figure out what's wrong. You don't have fun when you get no hits or do your job with men on base. It's different now."
Then again, perhaps the left-handed batters are just a microcosm of the action at work in the whole. Since kicking off a doubleheader sweep of the Devil Rays on July 21, the Yankees are batting .351 as a club, fattening up their collective statistics with a major assist from pitching staffs in Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
"When we score a lot of runs, that's when we have the good times," Abreu said. "We're supposed to score runs, but some of the last few days have been crazy."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.