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Mark Teixeira, slap hitter?

Mark Teixeira doubled to lead off the ninth

Mark Teixeira doubled to lead off the ninth inning in a 6-0 loss to Kansas City. (May 21, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

Here’s some back-of-the-envelope math: As Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira continues to wrestle with a debilitating season-long case of bronchitis -- and the likelihood that it is a significant factor in his wimpy offensive production -- it was suggested to manager Joe Girardi that emphasizing an improvement in Teixeira’s batting average might be a remedy.

Have Teixeira concentrate, that is, on putting the bat on the ball, punch a few singles and begin to lift his .227 average somewhere closer to his .280 career average.

As politely as he could, Girardi dismissed the idea.

"The biggest thing you want out of a hitter is production," he said. "Average is important, yes. But average doesn’t always mean production. You can become a slap hitter and hit .310 and drive in 50 runs and hit 10 home runs, and we’d all be saying, ‘Well, we like the other Mark Teixeira better -- the one that was hitting 30-plus home runs and driving in 110-120 runs. For me, the production is the important thing, not the average."

The thought of turning Teixeira, at 32, into a singles hitter is in stark contrast to his elite Major League history. In his first three Yankees seasons, he averaged 37 homers and 113 runs batted in. He is the fourth man in Yankees history to hit at least 30 home runs in each of his first three years with the team. Only Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez had done it before.

Teixeira is the only Major Leaguer to reach at least 30 homers and 100 RBI in each of the last eight seasons, and one of only three first basemen even to do that in eight seasons by the age of 31. Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols are the others.

Girardi’s decision to move Teixeira -- most often a No. 3 hitter in his three-plus seasons with the Yankees -- down to No. 7 Monday night was, in part, because "Maybe people will stop asking him so many questions all the time" about his ongoing slump. "He’s been the focus of our lineup. If the other guys were hitting, he probably wouldn’t be the focus. I mean, there’s a lot of other guys who are struggling in those situations (with runners in scoring position) -- some worse than he is. So, I’m going to move him down and see what happens."

Not much, it turned out. As the Yankees were shut out by the Kansas City Royals, Teixeira went 1-for-4, his only hit a lead-off double in the ninth. He struck out twice, once with two outs and a runner on second, but hardly was the only Yankees culprit.

Yes, Teixeira said, he still feels pretty crummy. "I’m not going to make excuses. It just hasn’t been fun, hasn’t been a fun ride.

"But, my whole career, I’ve just played to win baseball games, help my team win. That’s why I’ve been so successful. I mean, the guys that only care about themselves and personal stats, once you go through that first slump, or a slump, sometimes that’s your last because you’re in Triple-A and you’re out of the game.

"But when you grind it out, when you try to help your team win, sometimes you’re 0-for-4, four strikeouts, but I make a big play in the field, we win, I’m high-fiving it. That’s the great thing about winning baseball. We’ve been winning a lot around here and this is not fun right now because we’re not winning.

"Hopefully we can get a couple more guys healthy, including myself, and start having fun again. I’m trying to hope for the best. I think the last two days helps and, we’ll see. When your team’s winning, I never really worry about stats, because, every year, they’re there. At the end of the year, I’ll put my stats up against any power hitter in baseball.

"But when you’re losing, it becomes an individual game and that’s all you worry about. It’s all you think about is, well, my team’s out of it, so I might as well put up numbers. The last two or three weeks, we haven’t been hitting as a team, it’s not fun. You can have fun if you’re winning and not in a hot streak because you’re winning. As a team, we just need to pick it up."


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