Repetition critical as Jeter adjusts stride
Feeling comfortable at plate first goal of Yankees' captain
With rain pelting the adjacent highway a weak popup away, Derek Jeter was illuminated by rows of overhead fluorescent lights on Tuesday, his search for a comfortable batting stance having been moved indoors for the morning.
After one round in the cage with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Jeter stepped out of the batter's box and was surprised to see a gathering behind him. More than a dozen reporters had assembled in a darkened tunnel, watching and documenting his every stroke.
Indeed, Jeter may now lay claim to the most scrutinized left foot in Major League Baseball, as he and Long work to eliminate the captain's stride at the plate. The results aren't yet tangible, but the Yankees have time on their side.
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"This thing is not something that's going to happen overnight," Long said. "We're going to work at it every single day, and then he's going to feel more comfortable as we go along. You're going to have good days and bad days with it."
There is nearly no sample size to judge on, but that hasn't stopped some from asking questions. Jeter notched a ground-ball single in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers on Monday, his only hit in six Spring Training at-bats.
Speaking to reporters at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, Jeter said that he thinks too much is being made of the changes.
"I'm not changing a swing," Jeter said. "My swing is exactly the same. I'm shortening down the stride. It's really not as drastic as people are making it out to be. I'm not putting my hands in a different position. I'm not doing a different path. It's just the striding. I'm trying not to."
The edit is a continuation of a change Jeter and Long made last Sept. 11 in Texas. Essentially, Long patched the struggling Jeter so that he would stride more forward instead of toward home plate, allowing him to better cover the inside part of the plate.
Jeter responded by hitting in 18 of the Yankees' last 19 regular-season games, batting .342 (27-for-79). Having finished last year hitting .270, 44 points below his career average, Jeter begins the first season of a three-year, $51 million contract open to new ideas.
"It just cuts down on bad habits," Jeter said. "Striding too far forward, tying yourself up, habits that I got into last year. We're trying to just eliminate those. It's just repetition, really. That's the only thing that you're trying to do, just doing it over and over until it becomes natural."
Ideally, Long would be able to eliminate Jeter's stride completely, but he said Jeter can be productive just by reducing his movement and not crossing toward home plate.
"He's going to pick [the left foot] up at times," Long said. "I don't have a problem with it coming up, as long as it doesn't go in a whole lot. [Albert] Pujols comes off the ground sometimes; sometimes, it stays on. So that will vary."
Jeter says he has more time than usual to see pitches coming in. That is intentional; Long wants to see Jeter drive more balls to left field and left-center, while still capitalizing on his skill of going to right field.
"You have more time because there's no stride," Jeter said. "Now, you've just got to figure out when to swing."
During their workout on Tuesday, with the rest of the Yankees' coaches boarding a bus en route to Bradenton, Fla., Long stayed back in Tampa, Fla., and went through a modified workout with Jeter.
Long shortened the distance to about 40 feet and threw hard batting practice to the outer half of the plate, an area Jeter said he isn't yet comfortable covering against live pitching.
"That's going to help him a lot more with his timing and feeling comfortable than anything else," Long said. "I was pretty firm today. It wasn't like I was just laying it in there. But I did keep the ball on the outer half today, just so he could get a feel."
As perennially poor spring performer Freddy Garcia said earlier in camp, there are no baseball cards with Grapefruit League statistics on the back, so Jeter should have time to work out the kinks.
In fact, Long said that Jeter really has until about a week before the Yankees' March 31 regular-season opener to get everything in line before the team would push the panic button.
"Results in Spring Training, I'm not too concerned about," Long said. "What I'm concerned about is him feeling comfortable at the plate as soon as possible. If we can get to that point sooner than later, then, mission accomplished."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.