Brett Gardner headed back toward the Yankees’ dugout, bashing forearms with Gary Sanchez after bashing another ball over the wall.
Gardner was back at Yankee Stadium on Monday night and in a good place overall. He has been turning on the power from the top of the order to go with his table-setting duties.
After failing to homer in his first 18 games, the 33-year-old Gold Glove leftfielder has become a power threat. Gardner, who contributed a solo homer in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Royals on Monday night, has launched nine homers, scored 22 runs, driven in 19 and batted .354 in his last 21 games.
“He’s got the potential every time he steps up to the plate to hit a home run, not only here at Yankee Stadium with the short porch, but anywhere,” Aaron Judge said. “He’s kind of the firecracker at the start of this lineup that we need.”
Gardner’s firecracker-hot power surge stands out, given that he had seven homers in 148 games last season. He has 16 RBIs off homers this season and boasts a .281/.373/.527 slash line.
“I could hit 27 home runs this year and still not consider myself a power hitter,” said Gardner, who hit a career-high 17 in 2014. “My job is to get on base, put together good at-bats, see pitches, just be aggressive in the zone.”
He was hitting .350 after five games but went 5-for-44 in his next 13 games and sat at .188 with no homers and no RBIs. In his eighth game, he strained his neck and bruised his jaw in a first-base collision with the Rays’ Rickie Weeks Jr., but he missed only one game.
“I’m going to blame it on the collision,” Joe Girardi said. “Gardy is one of those guys that’s going to play beat up and is not going to really tell you exactly how it feels.”
But despite some lingering soreness, Gardner didn’t think that affected him much.
“For me, it’s just about being consistent at the plate and being in a good position with my lower half, down on my legs and driving the ball a little better and staying through the ball and being able to cover pitches in and away,” Gardner said. “I’d like to find a way of being a little bit more consistent in a good way.”
Said Judge, “What I’ve noticed is he’s not taking as many pitches.”
What also has been noticeable from this speed guy is the lack of steals. He hadn’t attempted to steal since April 10, when he swiped his fifth base in five tries.
“That’s something that I’m capable of doing in bunches, too,” Gardner said. “We’ve been scoring a lot of runs, so I haven’t real ly wanted to get thrown out on the bases or take any unnecessary chances.”
Girardi wants at least 100 runs from him. Gardner already has scored 32 times in about one-quarter of the season.
“I think all good teams in baseball that have a good offense have guys at the top of their lineup that are scoring pretty darn near close to or more than 100 runs,” Gardner said. “The last few years for us has been disappointing . . . We’ve been playing pretty good baseball, and I think we’re headed to where we want to be at. We’ve just got to keep it going.”