NEW YORK (AP) — Mark Teixeira was tired of his annual April funk, so he invested about $3,500 in his swing and decided to try something different.
The results have been dramatic.
After buying his own pitching machine and overhauling his winter workout regimen, the New York Yankees’ slugger is off to an exceptional start this season. Through five games, he already had more home runs (four) and RBIs (10) than he managed the entire first month last year.
“I’d like to think I could keep this up all year, but obviously I’m going to have ups and downs,” Teixeira said Tuesday night after hitting a three-run shot against Minnesota. “I’m just trying to ride this out as long as I can.”
The early success has marked a drastic turnaround for Teixeira, a notoriously slow starter who came into the season batting .235 in March and April, 51 points below his career average. His .342 on-base percentage was 35 points off and his .411 slugging mark was down a whopping 125 points, according to STATS LLC.
Those spring slumps even carried over to international competition: Teixeira went 0 for 15 with four strikeouts for Team USA during the World Baseball Classic in March 2006.
All that trouble getting out of the gate is one reason Teixeira has been chosen for only two All-Star squads in eight seasons, even though he’s widely recognized as one of baseball’s best all-around players. Along with Albert Pujols and Yankees teammate Alex Rodriguez, “Tex” is one of just three major leaguers to reach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs each of the past seven years.
Often asked for an explanation, Teixeira has pointed in the past to the fact that he’s a switch-hitter and it’s difficult for him to get two swings tuned up in time for opening day.
But rather than accept another April freeze, he changed his routine last winter, taking more cuts in the cage and spending less time in the weight room.
“I work out very hard and a lot in the offseason and spring training,” Teixeira said. “I just toned it down a little bit to give myself some more energy, and my bat feels good right now.”
He thinks the key to his quick start is the pitching machine he purchased and brought to Bobby Valentine’s indoor baseball facility, where Teixeira works out in the offseason about 15 minutes from his Connecticut home.
Known as an Iron Mike, the machine costs about $3,500 to $4,000 and can dial up accurate fastballs at 90 mph, Teixeira said. When he’s not around, area high school players and Little Leaguers get to use it.
“Just pounded away on that three or four days a week all offseason. And I think it really helped just kind of get my timing ready for the season,” he said.
“Just getting to see pitches from 60 feet, 6 inches, where you really don’t get to do that very much in the offseason. But when you have a machine like that that has the arm action, you can really simulate game conditions. I’d spend an hour or two in there just bangin’ balls and hitting off the tee and I felt good coming into spring training and I’m continuing to feel good the first week of the season.”
Teixeira, who turns 31 on Monday, said he can notice the difference from previous Aprils.
“Yeah, definitely. Physically, my bat feels quick. I feel stronger and I think that’s a combination of like I said, lifting a little bit less, having a little more energy to swing the bat and then fine-tuning my swing in that extra time,” he said.
It took about a month for Teixeira to rehab the strained right hamstring that kept him out of New York’s final two playoff games against Texas last October. Still, he started baseball workouts on Jan. 1, a few weeks earlier than usual.
Using a weighted bat, Teixeira would take 40 swings off a tee from each side of the plate to help rebuild strength and quickness. Then, about 100-150 hacks against the Iron Mike.
Throw in footwork drills on the artificial turf, and he was at it for about 60-90 minutes each time.
“The Iron Mike was the biggest difference. I would usually just have a coach throwing to me or someone throwing soft toss which, you know, you can swing but it’s not the same as 90 mph from 60 feet. So I think that was a good thing for me this year,” said Teixeira, who signed a $180 million, eight-year contract with the Yankees before their 2009 championship season.
The Gold Glove first baseman also credits highly regarded Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long for his fast start. Teixeira said the two “worked very, very hard” in spring training “to make sure my swing was where it needed to be.”
After batting .136 with two homers and nine RBIs last April, Teixeira was 6 for 18 (.333) with a team-high six runs scored through New York’s first five games this season. He ranked among the early major league leaders in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases.
Teixeira homered in his first official at-bat and went deep in each of the first three games. He has a trio of three-run homers, and his long ball Tuesday night was his first from the right side.
All that despite some frigid weather in the Bronx that normally isn’t conducive to hitting.
So now that April is no longer a mystery, just imagine what Teixeira can do.
“He’s such a great player that even with the slow starts the past couple years he’s more than made up for it,” teammate CC Sabathia said. “So him getting off to a hot start, we just expect hopefully that he keeps going.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)