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Yankees' new hitting coach Alan Cockrell explains Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner's drop-offs

Brett Gardner of the Yankees connects on a

Brett Gardner of the Yankees connects on a first inning base hit against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The offensive nosedives taken by Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner in the second half of the season were somewhat of a mystery as both players insisted they were, relatively speaking, healthy.

But Alan Cockrell, the Yankees' assistant hitting coach last season and named to the top job for this season, disclosed Wednesday morning that wasn't the case.

In the case of Gardner, Cockrell said the leftfielder dealt the entire season with a problematic right wrist, which was hit twice by pitches within a week -- April 8 against the Blue Jays and then again April 13 against the Orioles.

"I know that bothered him off and on the entire year," Cockrell said on a conference call.

Gardner earned his first career All-Star bid when he posted a .302/.377/.484 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) in the first half but tailed off in the last 21/2 months. His slash line was .206/.300/.292, including .191/.267/.287 in the final 26 games of the regular season. Gardner missed two games after the second hit by pitch -- X-rays came back negative -- and never went to the disabled list because of it. Cockrell said he received periodic cortisone injections in the hand the rest of the season.

"It's tough to hit if you don't have your legs, it's tough to hit if you don't have your hands," said Cockrell, the Rockies' hitting coach in 2002 and 2007-08 and the Mariners' hitting coach in 2009-10.

An injured leg was the primary problem for Ellsbury. The centerfielder was leading the team in average (.324) and OBP (.412) when he went to the disabled list with a sprained right knee May 20 but produced a .224/.269/.332 slash line after returning July 8.

"Unfortunately with both of these guys, they were [hurt] in the two major areas that hitters really, really need to be strong, with their hands and their legs," Cockrell said. "I think it probably was a bigger thing than either one of those two guys actually let on."

Cockrell, who served as Jeff Pentland's assistant in 2015, will be the Yankees' third hitting coach in the last three seasons. Pentland and Cockrell were brought aboard in 2014 to replace the fired Kevin Long, who ended up with the Mets.

"It's a volatile position," Cockrell said of the seeming lack of job security. "If you don't hit, then they find somebody else, and I've experienced that twice before, in Colorado and Seattle. And I think anybody's who's been in the game has experienced it. So there are no assurances. I'm thankful, I'm honored, I'm excited about this opportunity, I'm excited about the guys we have."

One of those is Alex Rodriguez, who though he tailed off toward the end of the season, still vastly exceeded most people's expectations. The 40-year-old had a .250/.356/.486 slash line, with 33 homers and 86 RBIs in 151 games.

"What I learned about him as a hitter is he's the smartest baseball player I've ever been around in every aspect," Cockrell said. "He knows his swing mechanically, the approach and how he breaks down pitchers and what his approach should be, the smartest guy I've ever been around. What the future holds I don't know, but I know Alex well enough to know that he's a professional to the nth degree, and that he will prepare himself to come in here next year and be ready to go. I would be surprised if he doesn't come back and have another great year."

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