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Hartnett: Now Healthy, Teixeira Could Play Huge Role In Deciding AL East

Yankees Desperately Need Power — And Tex Is That Guy
Mark Teixeira watches his three-run home run in the third inning against the Indians on June 4, 2013, at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Mark Teixeira watches his three-run home run in the third inning against the Indians on June 4, 2013, at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Yankees fans wondered aloud whether Mark Teixeira would ever return to being a fearsome middle-of-the-lineup presence following three declining years and a troublesome right wrist injury that sidelined him until the final day of May.

Teixeira’s on-base and slugging percentages have suffered a steady fall since 2009, his outstanding first season in the Bronx. He’s probably not the elite .565 slugger he was in ’09, nor is he the guy who slugged .475 in 2012.

Over his past three seasons, Teixeira has averaged 32 home runs and 101 RBIs in 145 games per season while slugging .484 and logging a .347 on-base percentage. In other words, Teixeira’s down numbers are the kind of statistics a vast majority of power hitters would dream of in any given season.

TEIXEIRA PLAYS MAJOR ROLE IN CONSECUTIVE YANKEES WINS

After going 1-for-9 with a dreadful seven strikeouts in his first three games since his returning, the sleeping giant awoke on Monday night. Teixeira swatted a line-drive grand slam in the third inning of Monday’s 7-4 victory over the Indians.

Teixeira repeated his heroics against “The Tribe” on Tuesday by socking a two-run homer off Scott Kazmir in the third inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 win that extended the Yankees’ winning streak to two consecutive games.

Given Drew Stubbs’ three-run homer off Joba Chamberlain in the seventh inning, Teixeira’s contributions once again proved to be invaluable to the Yankees’ cause.

Manager Joe Girardi labeled Teixeira as an “RBI machine” after the victory.

“Big home run by Tex. That’s two nights in a row. He’s an RBI machine,” Girardi said.

It’s a small sample, but it’s certainly encouraging for the Yankees to see Teixeira swat home runs from both sides of the plate. Teixeira has always been a notoriously slow-starter.

His reemergence couldn’t have come at more crucial time. Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells’ bats have suddenly gone cold. The Yankees have fallen behind the Boston Red Sox and currently sit even with the Baltimore Orioles in AL East chase at 2.5 games behind Boston.

CANO AND WELLS SUFFERING THROUGH POWER OUTAGES

Both Cano and Wells’ numbers have gone into a tailspin as May turned to June.  Cano has only managed one home run in past 14 games and his average has dipped from .301 on May 15 to his current mark of .283.

Wells, meanwhile has gone homerless in 17 games and only collected one RBI during his pronounced slump. The Yankees’ corner outfielder’s average has fallen dramatically to .245 since being a .301 hitter on May 15 and his on-base percentage has shrunk to .292.

You would expect Cano to eventually find his groove, though Wells’ struggles are more concerning given his last productive full season came in 2010 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Besides Cano’s ability to be an all-world, MVP-caliber player, the Yankees need someone else to do the heavy lifting in their lineup and are counting on Teixeira to team with Cano to give the Bombers a much-desired one-two punch.

TEIXEIRA’S PRESENCE IS VITAL GIVEN THE BOMBERS’ POWER WOES

Curtis Granderson is still ailing from a fractured knuckle in his pinkie finger and isn’t expected back until late June given an estimated timetable of a minimum of four weeks.

Kevin Youkilis hasn’t given the Yankees much bang for their buck after signing a one-year $12 million contract in the offseason. The corner infielder has been hampered by injuries to the tune of a .247 average, two home runs and 8 RBIs through 77 at-bats as a Yankee. Like Wells, the Yankees aren’t sure what kind of player Youkilis will be the second half of the season and Youkilis hasn’t been a reliable hitter since 2011.

Alex Rodriguez is facing the possibility of a 50-game or perhaps even greater – a 100-game suspension. It’s doubtful that A-Rod plays a single game in 2013 and if so, what kind of player he’ll be on two damaged hips.

The Bombers probably squeezed all they could out of scrap heap additions Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay. What they really needed was Teixeira back to provide security in the middle of their lineup.

If Teixeira can provide consistent power for the remainder of the 2013 season, it will go a long way in New York’s hopes of leapfrogging Baltimore and Boston. The Yankees desperately needed someone to fill the power void — and that man appears to be Mark Teixeira.

You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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