The defining image of last night's game was not Masahiro Tanaka walking off the mound after 1 of his 11 strikeouts. As well as he battled to keep his team in the game against Garrett Richards, the most memorable moment last night was Mark Teixeira turning on a 94 MPH Richards fastball that was belt high and on the inner half of the plate, hitting it high and deep into right field, and pausing for a second to watch it land in the second deck. I'm talking that "no doubt about it" split second of pimpage that Teix does when he really knows he got one. I'm talking about this:
(Courtesy of ESPN/MLB.com)
That's a pose we haven't seen from Teix in a while. It's a shame too because it's one of my favorite home run poses. Teix absolutely tattooed that ball and he said after the game that he definitely wasn't holding back on that swing. One of the criteria he set for himself as far as determining when he was all the way back from last year's wrist problems was being able to turn on a hard fastball inside. He accomplished that in a big way last night, putting an exclamation point on the end of his first week back from the DL. While the week as a whole wasn't spectacular, there were some positive signs that Teix is starting to come around.
The best sign that Teix is at least feeling 100% physically was his ability to play in and start every game since Easter Sunday. The off-day last Monday helped, but that's still a big deal when you're talking about a guy who was admittedly protecting his wrist early and didn't get a lot of MiL rehab game action in before returning from his hammy strain. His performance in those 7 games wasn't as consistent as his participation. Teix is 5-23 in the last week (.217 BA) with 7 BB and 1 HBP. 3 of the 5 hits have gone for extra bases (1 2B, 2 HR), but he's also struck out 10 times in 31 PA. He's been almost all or nothing, heavy on the 3 true outcomes, and has shown some signs of rust.
Not that that was unexpected. Teix got hurt in the 4th game of the season, a time when he was still dialing in his swing, testing his wrist, and getting his timing down at the plate. To have that early season process halted so quickly would be a problem for most hitters, especially ones who were working on a slower schedule than most in Spring Training. The Yanks got him back into a few ExST games before activating him, but the quality of opposing pitching there versus the Majors is a night and day difference. Teix is still essentially in late spring mode right now. There's going to be some strikeouts involved when that's the case and he's facing pitchers who have settled or are settling into their regular season groove.
What makes those strikeouts easier to swallow is the fact that 8 of them came in his first 3 games back and he's only struck out twice in the last 4. The walks are also a great equalizer because they show he's seeing the ball well and not swinging too much or at too many bad pitches to try to compensate for missed time. He walked 3 times against the Red Sox on Thursday, when he popped his other HR since coming back, and twice on Friday night against the Angels. He's been on base in each of the last 4 games and 6 of 7 overall, he's scored 4 runs in the last 4 games, and he's driven in 2 on his 2 yardjobs. It's not like he's out there trying to do too much and what he has done has been incredibly valuable.
The Yankees need Teix to be healthy and be a powerful presence in the middle of that batting order. Since he's come back, that's exactly what he's been. With more batting practice and more at-bats, Teix's timing should improve and his performance should level out while the strikeouts go down. If the last 4 games are any indication, that may already be happening.