Long already hard at work with Yankees
Hitting coach puts time in with Swisher; Granderson on deck
NEW YORK -- While the rest of baseball clings to its last weeks of Hot Stove hibernation, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has already rolled into the new season, logging frequent-flyer miles to put in batting cage hours with several players.
Long is spending this week overseeing Alex Rodriguez's first swings of 2010 and has already spent a good chunk of the winter helping Nick Swisher. A visit with Curtis Granderson is also ahead, as Long sacrifices his down time in the hopes that New York's offense will be a dominant force as they defend the World Series title.
"Last year, I set out to bring guys together and get a real pulse of guys to see where they were," Long said. "I wanted to see if we could make this a more team-oriented group. [Manager] Joe Girardi did a terrific job, obviously, and it seemed like those efforts were well-spent. I don't have a problem doing it if guys come together. The team chemistry that I saw last year was a lot of fun."
One of the keys will undoubtedly be Rodriguez, who has already received good news from Dr. Marc Philippon, in that his surgically repaired right hip should hold up for 2010 without another procedure. Despite the injury, Rodriguez finished with a strong campaign, belting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs before conquering his postseason demons with an October to remember.
Long said there is no reason to expect that A-Rod won't hit the ground running in 2010, noting that the Yankees figured out how to tweak his rest regimen during a June series in Atlanta -- when he was hitting just .207 -- and reaped the rewards through the rest of the year.
"I would say his numbers from that point on and through the playoffs, I can't put a percent on it, but he certainly looks explosive and like the Alex Rodriguez that I've seen from the past," Long said.
"The key thing was his patience -- not expecting too much. Talking to him over and over again about how he's got to rely on teammates. He realized the big picture, which was October baseball. If he got close to healthy by then and not try to over-do it, then there was a big reward at the end, and it ended up working out perfectly."
Long's first stop was to meet with Swisher in December at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, where the switch-hitting outfielder continued adjustments that were sparked during the World Series against the Phillies, quieting his movements and allowing him to better respond on offspeed pitches.
"To Swish's credit, he wanted to get it right and he wanted to start early," Long said. "He's a man on a mission. I think the playoffs opened up his eyes to how pitchers can throw offspeed pitches over and over again to expose you. He was ready to take another step forward."
Swisher's postseason was one of frustration, best identified by his bases-loaded popup against the Angels' Brian Fuentes in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. But Swisher liked some new tweaks so much, he brought them into the World Series and was rewarded with a home run and a double in Game 3 against the Phillies.
|"Anytime you lose players off a championship team, as in [Hideki] Matsui or Melky Cabrera, there's going to be some feelings hurt. ... But we'll find ways to get it done without them. Our job is to make Curtis [Granderson] and Nick [Johnson] comfortable and get them going to work on 2010."|
|-- Kevin Long|
"We've got his hands closer to his body, and we've got to get him consistent with his lower half. If we do all of those things, you might see a guy who's able to react better to an offspeed pitch."
Next week, Long plans to meet with Granderson, who figures to be one of the hitting coach's main projects during the spring. An All-Star with the Tigers, Granderson hit .249 with 30 homers and 71 RBIs last year, but he batted just .183 in 180 at-bats against left-handed pitching. Long is interested in breaking down Granderson's swing to get a better feel for it.
"He's obviously more productive against right-handed pitching, but he's had productive years against left-handed pitching -- and a lot of non-productive years," Long said. "My job is to try to get him to feel as comfortable as possible, without forcing it. I don't know what he's done in the past, but I'd really like to get a sense of his mentality against left-handed pitching."
Long said that he has also met with Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, though that trio is not ready to begin hitting yet, since the season ended so late. New acquisition Nick Johnson has also expressed interest in meeting with Long in Arizona early next month.
In what down time he has, Long has wondered what the Yankees' lineup might look like, though he has not discussed it with Girardi. He believes Brett Gardner would be a "pretty good fit" as the No. 9 hitter, Johnson could play well as the No. 2 hitter, getting on base in front of Teixeira and A-Rod, though Granderson could do that against right-handers.
One question is who will bat fifth behind Rodriguez, and Long wonders if Robinson Cano could be ready. If not, Jorge Posada has done it and could slide into that job. While Long said he is still crossing his fingers that Johnny Damon will return, he said there will be some adjustments to make when Spring Training arrives and the lineup looks different than it did in Game 6 of the World Series.
"Anytime you lose players off a championship team, as in [Hideki] Matsui or Melky Cabrera, there's going to be some feelings hurt," Long said. "I mean, my feelings are hurt. Those guys are part of a championship family. There's a lot of guys that have strong feelings toward them, not just as baseball players, but as people.
"It's hard to move on from Hideki Matsui and maybe the loss of Johnny Damon. To lose three starters out of this lineup, they're going to be missed. But we'll find ways to get it done without them. Our job is to make Curtis and Nick comfortable and get them going to work on 2010."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.