Overbay makes case to stick when Tex returns
Veteran first baseman among Yankees' offensive, defensive leaders
TAMPA, Fla. -- The updates trickle in each day from the sun-drenched practice fields of the Yankees' training complex, where Mark Teixeira is working toward rejoining the big league lineup. There might be four at-bats one afternoon, six the next. It is progress.
Lyle Overbay hears these reports now and then, but it isn't as though he seeks them out. Overbay is quite literally wearing a Yankees uniform only because Teixeira is not, and now the 36-year-old veteran wonders if there might be a place for both players to fit on the roster.
"I'm not too worried. I would like to see if I can coexist here," Overbay said. "I like it. This is fun. I was on the other side, and you don't get to experience this. I'm very surprised; it was a good surprise, but I'm very surprised at how good these guys are in the clubhouse and as far as being teammates and stuff."
Signed for what essentially amounted to a four-day tryout late in Spring Training, a last-minute patch slapped onto the roster after he was released by the Red Sox, Overbay has proved to be nothing short of a terrific move by the Bombers' braintrust.
Overbay hit his seventh homer during the Yanks' series against the Orioles in Baltimore this week, which is five more than he hit all of last season with the D-backs and Braves. Of Overbay's 38 hits this season, 18 have been for extra bases.
Analyzing Overbay's contribution to the Yankees' first-place record in the American League East, manager Joe Girardi said, "It's been a lot, I know that. Playing every day for us, offensively, defensively. He's come up with a number of big hits for us. He's performed about as well as you could perform."
It's uncertain that even if healthy, Teixeira would have produced much more than Overbay has contributed. Overbay has driven in 25 runs and hit for a .753 OPS in 160 plate appearances; a slow starter, Teixeira had five homers, 20 RBIs and a .665 OPS through his first 162 plate appearances last season.
To be fair, Teixeira's early numbers have fluctuated over his Yankees career, and Overbay is quick to say that he believes the Yanks will be a better team with Teixeira on the active roster.
"I want Teixeira to come back and be healthy," Overbay said. "I don't want him to rush back and then get hurt again. I want to make sure that he feels he's right, because when he's right, he's good. He's going to take this team and do things that I'll never be able to do. I'm not going to be naive and say he's not as good as I am. He's way better than I am."
For now, Overbay lauds Kevin Long for his resurgence. The Yankees' hitting coach stressed the importance of having Overbay's hands and lower half working in concert to generate muscle behind the ball.
"I give him all the credit," Overbay said. "For me, I never used my lower half. I knew that, but everything that I've ever been told beforehand has never really worked for me. It never clicked for me. I tried it and bad habits would come from it.
"I'd go back and look at when I did hit home runs or doubles, hard-hit balls, and my lower half was getting through. I didn't get consistent with it. The way he presented it made total sense for me, I guess."
The Yanks' idea, at least initially, was to have Overbay play against only right-handed pitching. An injury to Kevin Youkilis changed that; his homer off O's left-hander Troy Patton on Tuesday was Overbay's first off a southpaw since May 28, 2011.
"Our plans were not to play him against left-handers, but when Youk went down, he was forced to play against left-handers," Girardi said. "And he's done OK there, too."
Overbay acknowledges there is still plenty of work needed; even with the homer off Patton, he has just six hits in 45 at-bats (.133) against lefties, compared to a .296 (32-for-108) mark against righties.
"I didn't expect this," Overbay said. "Youkilis getting hurt kind of opened the door for me to play even more against some lefties. I think the confidence as far as working with Kevin and getting that transfer, that lower half, into it is giving me a lot of confidence. I think that ties into the success, too."
Youkilis is alongside Teixeira on the comeback trail, and Overbay's attitude about the situation seems relaxed; most days, Overbay can be found with headphones on, studying the screen of his iPad and ripping through the first season of "The Wire."
There is a point to be made that carrying Travis Hafner, solely a designated hitter, makes it less likely the Yankees would carry two strict first basemen in Overbay and Teixeira.
That was an issue Overbay ran into with the Red Sox, where Mike Carp had a leg up this spring because he also had the ability to play some outfield. But Overbay said he is not stressing about what may come down the line.
"That'll play itself out," Overbay said. "I'm more worried about the day-to-day stuff as far as what I can do to help this team win. I want to win a World Series, and these guys are in it every year. It's got a pretty good chance."