Teixeira knows where his bread is buttered
NEW YORK -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira occasionally has to remind himself of some words of wisdom from his first manager."Play to your strengths," Buck Showalter would tell him. That is, he's paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and keep rallies going. In other words, don't sweat the small stuff. "I want to be hitting line drives and home runs," Teixeira said Sunday night after he got on base three times with a walk, a double and a single as the Yankees beat the Angels, 11-5. Yes, Teixeira may sometimes become frustrated by the weird infield shifts that have taken a few hits away when he's hitting left-handed. Yes, he has mentioned the possibility of laying down an occasional bunt to keep defenses honest. Wait, you guys took that stuff seriously? Can't anyone take a joke anymore? "That's not what we're paying Mark Teixeira to do," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We expect him to drive in runs. His average was down some last year, but no one complained about the home runs and RBIs. That's what we want from him. We want the run production. And that's going to come." When Teixeira stops and thinks it through, he knows a bunt single would be like a gift to opposing teams. "When I try to slap the ball around, it's like Juan Pierre trying to hit home runs," he said. After hitting .248 last season, Teixeira lost weight and made some tweaks to his approach at the plate. But the bottom line is that even in a season in which he batted 33 points below his career average -- and hit just .224 against right-handed pitching -- he was still enormously productive. He was third in the American League with 39 home runs, fourth with 111 RBIs and 13th with 76 walks. Even with a lower batting average, he was still one of the baseball's best offensive players. Oh, by the way, the Yankees were the second-highest scoring team in the Major Leagues. Teixeira knows he has to be cautious about attempting to fix something that most people would say is not broken. "You're a big power hitter who drives in runs," Teixeira remembers Showalter telling him when both were with the Rangers. "If they take a few singles away from you, don't let that put you into a slump because you're trying to change the way you hit." Still, how can a hitter keep the shifts out of his head, especially when they do cost him points off his batting average? "You tell him to swing the bat and hit balls hard and things will work out," Girardi said. "It's not like it's something new this year. Every team is probably going to adjust a little bit different to him, depending on their pitchers." The Yankees had a big night Sunday in pounding out 12 hits, including home runs from Derek Jeter and Raul Ibanez. Teixeira began the game hitting .188 overall and .158 against right-handed pitching. But he was in the middle of almost everything while going 2-for-4 on Sunday, even stealing a base in the fifth inning, and he raised his average to .222. For good measure, he also scorched a ball to Angels first baseman Albert Pujols in the eighth. He hasn't hit a home run in 36 at-bats, but isn't concerned. "I feel really good up there," he said. "If you're not hitting home runs, it's about finding holes. I'm feeling really good. I'm feeling good in the cages and in batting practice. I know they're going to start coming." Neither is Girardi. "Tex is a notoriously slow starter," Girardi said. "We've been through this before, and he's put up some pretty good years. For me, I don't get too worried about 30 at-bats. It's something you're going to see hitters go through. If they go through in the middle of the year, you're not going to say much. If they go through at the beginning of the year, it's a glaring stat and people are really concerned. I think you've got to let things play out here a little bit." That's the bottom line in all of this. The Yankees have arguably the deepest lineup in baseball, and as some hitters go through the routine slumps of a season, the Bronx Bombers keep going. "Since I've been here, we've scored a whole lot of runs because we're so deep," Teixeira said. "One night it might be Jeet [Jeter]. One night it could be Alex [Rodriguez] or Robinson [Cano] or someone else. Up and down the lineup, we have guys that can beat you."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.