Healthy and on a tear, Teixeira proving he's back
Yankees first baseman's 350th homer is his eighth blast in his last 17 games
NEW YORK -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is back and suddenly producing again like it's 2009.
Teixeira has been on a tear, hitting nine homers in the 23 games since returning from the disabled list with a right hamstring strain. His two-run first-inning shot off veteran Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez on Saturday at Yankee Stadium sent the Yanks on their way to a 7-1 victory and was his eighth homer in the last 17 games.
The switch-hitting Teixeira's blast was the first of five on the day for the Yankees, and more significantly, it was the 350th of his 12-year big league career.
"That's a lot of home runs," the 34-year-old Teixeira said after going 1-for-4 in the game to bring his batting average to a respectable .271. "That just means I'm going to have to play a lot longer to get to 700. I'll have to play until I'm 50. But that's a great number. It's a nice round number. If you had asked me when I was a rookie if I'd ever hit 350 homers, I'd have said you were crazy. It's really nice."
Teixeira finally seems to have beaten back the injury bug that began in the final month of the 2012 season and included right wrist surgery, which caused him to miss most of '13. He's even beaten back a little nagging groin scare that forced him to miss starting in Monday's opener of the Subway Series.
Last year, Teixeira tore the sheath in his right wrist hitting off a tee as Team USA prepared for the World Baseball Classic. Teixeira rested it, rehabbed it and was able to return for only 15 games before succumbing to season-ending surgery.
Teixeira spent the spring regaining strength in the wrist, and he said that aside from some tightness at times, it is no longer an issue.
"The day I came off the [most recent] DL stint, it was [back to normal], so that was a good sign," Teixeira said. "I told everybody that the DL stint was the best thing that happened for me. The wrist wasn't feeling great to start the first few games of the season, and Spring Training it wasn't feeling great, so that time off to let it calm down, to let everything calm down, was pretty good for me."
No question, Teixeira's prolonged absences have been detrimental to the team. The Yanks signed him as a free agent on Dec. 23, 2008, to an eight-year, $180 million contract that immediately paid dividends.
In 2009, with Teixeira hitting .292 and tying for the American League lead with 39 homers and leading with 122 RBIs, the Yankees won the pennant and defeated the Phillies in a tough six-game World Series.
Teixeira's production remained pretty strong until he hurt his groin going into the final five weeks of the 2012 season, although he returned for the last three games and the playoffs.
But without Teixeira the last two seasons, Yanks manager Joe Girardi has had to use 13 other players for at least one game at first base. Last year, the brunt of the work went to the now departed Lyle Overbay. This season, Kelly Johnson has been asked to play out of position and fill in for Teixeira, leaving a big hole in the infield and the cleanup spot in the batting order.
With Teixeira, the Yankees are a much more potent team. He leads the club in homers and is second with 20 RBIs, despite coming off the disabled list on April 20 and missing 14 games.
"It's huge to have him back because he's also a switch-hitter," Girardi said. "And as we talked about last year, we missed him a lot last year with a lot of other players. You think of the numbers he's already put up and he missed [a bunch of] games because of an injury, but it's great having him back."
To Girardi's point, this year, Teixeira was hitting .250 (3-for-12) with two RBIs in the first four games before injury struck again. A notoriously slow starter at the plate, there was the lingering question of how much he actually might have had left. Now that the wrist is healed, that question is in the process of being answered.
"We felt that he would heal up and we were told that he would heal up, but you've got to see it," Girardi added. "We didn't really see him let the bat go left-handed until the end of Spring Training. And that made me feel better. I thought that if he could get back his normal swing, that he could hit home runs, but it took him a while to get there."
Again to Girardi's point, Teixeira's first-inning homer was from the left side of the plate and landed about a row into the short porch in right field, his sweet spot. Eight of his nine homers this season have come from that side of the plate.
Teixeira is pleased about that, considering the fact that he finished Spring Training with some aching pain in his wrist when swinging from the left side.
"It was easier to hit right-handed to start," Teixeira said. "Your bottom hand is your power hand, and so since it was the right wrist, left-handed that's my power."
Teixeira said he worked through some pain, soreness and tightness, "a little bit of everything. And now, I'm not afraid of swinging free from either side."
It was one of those bizarre "overuse injuries," said Teixeira, who has been forced to curtail all that extra swinging.
"Swinging with the weighted bat, too, that probably wasn't the best thing for me," he said. "But I did it my whole career. When you're young, you can swing a 40-ounce bat or whatever it was and you don't think about it. Now I'm getting a little smarter, and a little older, actually a lot older."
What Teixeira's doing is currently working. Now he just needs to stay healthy.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.