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Johnson working with Long on using legs, driving ball

Yankee fans remember Nick Johnson for his injuries.

Yankee fans remember Nick Johnson for his injuries. Mets fans might remember him as the guy who looks like ? Credit: Alejandra Villa

TAMPA, Fla. - Nick Johnson went 0-for-2 with a walk Monday afternoon and was so irritated that several hours after the game, he sent Kevin Long a text message.

"[He] texted me and said, 'I was awful, I was embarrassing' and was pretty much beating himself up," the Yankees' hitting coach said. "I said, well, I didn't see it, so that's the good part."

Johnson recovered nicely the next day against the Pirates, smacking two home runs.

Even more significantly, Johnson pulled both shots, perhaps the manifestation of something Long has been working on with the designated hitter since early in the offseason.

"When I watched his film, it was striking that his back foot was sliding out and collapsing, and I thought that was one of the first areas we'd address," Long said. "And when he came out to Arizona, that's the first thing we attacked was his lower half and using it more efficiently and using it more consistently. And what I felt when I looked at it was that he was going to be able to get to the inside pitch."

Johnson visited Long in Arizona for two days during the offseason.

"Put me up at his house and everything," Johnson said.

Turning serious, he added: "We talked about it when I was down there, watched some film to see how the guys who are really good do it."

Long showed Johnson video of, among others, Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer and Alex Rodriguez to demonstrate how some of the game's top hitters use their legs.

Johnson isn't a slap hitter, but he said his "lower half" has been a problem throughout his career. The primary thing Long is trying to do is eliminate some of the movement of Johnson's back foot in the box.

Johnson has been more at ease going opposite-field rather than trying to turn on the ball and drive it to rightfield.

"He's always had a real good feel for going the other way; that's always been a big part of his approach," Long said. "I don't mind if we hit it there, but I want it to be an explosive, impactful swing."

Johnson said that even if he's able to incorporate everything he and Long are working on into his swing, the inviting rightfield porch at Yankee Stadium doesn't have him salivating.

"I just try to put a good swing on the ball,'' Johnson said. "I'm not up there trying to hit homers. I just get on base and try to turn that back side; that's all I've been working on.''

Long wouldn't put a number on Johnson's power potential. Johnson's career high in homers is the 23 he hit for the Nationals in 2006. He hit 15 in 129 games for the Yankees in 2002.

"I don't think we can concern ourselves with pulling the ball and getting pull-happy; that's not what we're trying to address here," Long said. "What we're trying to address is to get his swing to work efficiently and in the correct way and, certainly, a byproduct of that, yeah, there's probably going to be some more home runs. But it could happen on the road, it could happen at home."

As for the texts about being "awful" and "embarrassing," Long said he expected that from Larry Bowa's nephew.

"He's got a little Larry Bowa to him, and that's part of that family, which I like," Long said with a smile of the fiery former Yankees coach. "He's a guy who's going to be hard on himself and expects a lot, and I think the great ones do that. That's part of him I wouldn't change a thing. It's going to be my job to keep him somewhat positive and not let him grind himself and take his mind and really think negative thoughts."


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