First Pitch: Can this last?

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
6:00
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The Yankees have been very good so far. We have given credit to Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman. The players, of course, deserve their share.

But can this .600 baseball last? Can this club keep playing at this clip until the reinforcements arrive?

Consider this: Through 30 games, the Yankees scored 133 runs, while the Rays put up 131. The Yankees allowed 123, while Rays gave up 130. The difference? The Yankees are 18-12, while the Rays were 14-16 before Monday night.

While Lyle Overbay has been as good as the slow-starting Mark Teixeira is usually during the first month of the season, that probably won't last. Teixeira's value generally comes in the middle of the season when he produces the most.

Curtis Granderson is close to coming back and the Yankees will have a bit of an outfield jam, but Vernon Wells will still be very important. The reason? He is the only righty among the starters. Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki are all lefties.

Wells looks like a better player than in recent years and Insider Teddy Mitrosilis talked to hitting coach Kevin Long and did a fine job of explaining why.

In the past year, Wells has made two key fixes, one mechanical and one physical. He refocused his approach -- ditching the urge to overswing and embracing a compact, measured stroke -- which began before the Yankees acquired him this spring. "He had been working on shortening his swing, backing the ball up [in the zone] and taking the thought of hitting home runs out of his thought process," Long says.

Long has talked with Wells about his stride and moved him a little closer to the plate, for better coverage, but nothing else matters without a mental emphasis on staying short and through the middle. For everything Wells does, that's his key, one he somehow misplaced in Anaheim.

The physical fix is obvious: Wells tore ligaments in his right thumb on May 20 last year, had surgery and missed more than two months. He returned to 120 mostly poor plate appearances. The injury doesn't explain away last season's impatience and lethargy, but Wells, although considered "healthy," is still recovering from that surgery. Long implied that when Wells faces pitchers with heavy fastballs, there remains a survival mechanism alerting him to shorten up and protect the thumb.


Wells has played close to the level that got him that $126 million contract in the first place. He has an .820 OPS so far. The last time he was in that range was in 2008 with the Blue Jays when he finished at .840.

Meanwhile, Travis Hafner is the man who has really lifted the Yankees' offense with so much power gone from last year's team. He and Wells both have six homers, which are two less than Robinson Cano for the team lead. In terms of OPS, Hafner is at .999, which is even slightly better than Cano's .978.

You could make an argument that the DH has been the Yankees' MVP so far. He has managed to stay healthy, which is a big deal for player who has only appeared in more than 100 games once since 2008.

Hafner's already played in 26 games this season. If he can stay on the field, there is no reason to believe he won't continue to hit. Maybe not at a near 1.000 OPS, but something in that range is conceivable.

UP NOW: Alex Rodriguez is back. I ask you if A-Rod could return to the bigs before the All-Star break.

ON DECK: The Yankees start an eight-game, seven-day road trip, beginning in Colorado before Kansas City and Cleveland. The way these three teams have played it is a pretty tough trip.

Tonight, it will be Hiroki Kuroda (4-1, 2.25 ERA) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (2-3, 4.18); Wednesday, David Phelps (1-1, 5.66) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-0, 4.91); Thursday, CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.31) vs. Jeff Francis (1-2, 7.27).

IN THE HOLE: We have the one and only Wallace Matthews in the Mile High air. The first two games of the series are 8:40 p.m. starts and the final one on Thursday is at 3:10. Earlier in the day, Mark Simon has a blog about Mariano Rivera against the Rockies. We will be on the blog all day and night.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can this last?
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.271 16 70 71
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 21
RBIJ. Ellsbury 70
RB. Gardner 81
OPSB. Gardner .750
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAH. Kuroda 3.77
SOH. Kuroda 137