Under Joe Torre and new hitting coach Don Mattingly, the Yankees' bats are starting to come around as expected.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published May 30, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Two months ago, the Yankees wrapped up spring training in Tampa and headed for the regular season armed with a lineup filled with some of the best hitters in the game.
Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams.
It was the season that was supposed to be fueled by offense.
But a funny thing happened early. The Yankees superstars struggled at the plate, and talk centered more around their slumps than their home runs.
Not so anymore. The offense is finally starting to come through, and the wins are coming with it.
New York is 8-3 on its 12-game road stretch and has scored 61 during a six-game winning streak. The Yankees have moved ahead of Boston into first place in the AL East by a half-game.
Manager Joe Torre credits some of the recent success to new hitting coach Don Mattingly. The former Yankee spent the past seven seasons as a spring training special instructor. Now, Torre said, he's quietly and confidently leading by example.
"He's confident in what he does," Torre said of Mattingly, who retired after the 1995 season. "He's a tireless worker. And it has only been a short time since he played, so it's still fresh in his mind (what should be done) and the players know that. He does different things with different players. It's the way I thought it would be, but I never thought it would be as good as this."
There was the three-game series in Baltimore, where the Yankees outscored the Orioles 41-17. Friday, home runs by four Yankees helped secure a win over the Rays.
Saturday night, the Yankees had 10 hits, including home runs by Ruben Sierra, Enrique Wilson and Williams, en route to a 5-3 win.
Mattingly said he never worried about the Yankees stars' "slump," saying when you have good hitters, it's just a matter of patience.
Four games ago, Jeter was hitting .189, but he's now at .220 after a 1-for-5 game Saturday ended a streak of three three-hit games. Sheffield started slowly but is batting .326 over the past 10 games. In his first season with the Yankees, Sheffield said he realizes he just needed to find his comfort level.
"The thing is, you want to be comfortable when the season starts where you can get off to a good start and go from there, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way and you have to battle and keep going," he said. "You've got to know inside it's going to come. I'd put in extra work and go in the cage and work on the things that I was having problems with and finally got comfortable in the batter's box."
What's as important to Torre as the big-name hitters coming around is that his other hitters are also coming through. Hideki Matsui (season-high hitting streak of nine games; 17-for-37), and Sierra are also playing well.
"The bottom of our batting order combined has (30) home runs," Torre said. "Sierra is a pro hitter. Matsui has been flying under the radar with everybody else doing so well. He's tucked away in that batting order."
Though the attention remains on the superstars, Torre likes the overall production more.
"Top to bottom right now we don't have a soft spot," Torre said. "The fact that we are blessed with so many of these people, it doesn't put pressure on any one of them."