TAMPA, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mark Teixeira took swings from the right side of the plate and then the left, his first time batting outdoors since a wrist injury ended his 2013 season almost before it began.
He pronounced himself ready to return and gave what seemed like a warning to the rest of Major League Baseball. Last year was an aberration, when the New York Yankees missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years. In his mind, an offseason spending spree transformed Murmurers’ Row back into Murderers’ Row.
“You look at our lineup, we’re back to being the Yankees again,” he said Sunday. “Last year we weren’t the Yankees.”
Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran were signed to fortify a batting order that dropped from a team-record 245 homers in 2012 to an un-Bronx Bomber-like 144 last year, the largest falloff in baseball history for a non-strike season. Teixeira was limited to 15 games and Derek Jeter to 17, and Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson also missed long stretches.
“There’s not one guy that has to carry this team, but absolutely I expect to hit in the middle of the order, hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs,” Teixeira said. “That’s going to take pressure off everybody and help us win games.”
After two days of canceled flights from New York, Teixeira started workouts four days ahead of the other position players. He fielded grounders at first base, took 53 swings off a tee and 43 more in batting practice in his first outdoor session since surgery last July 2 to repair a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist.
Jeter, still recovering from the effects of a broken ankle in October 2012, has been working out at the minor complex since Jan. 20. He reports to the big league camp Wednesday, when he will hold a news conference to discuss his announcement last week that this will be his final season.
With the Yankees weakened at second following the departure of Robinson Cano and at third because of Rodriguez’s season-long suspension, New York is counting on Teixeira and Jeter to stabilize an infield in flux.
“They’re back in my mind, but I think you have to get them into games to see exactly where they’re at, to be fair to them and probably to alleviate any doubt that you might have,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The retirement decision by Jeter, who turns 40 in June, shocked Teixeira.
“I thought that Derek had a couple years left in him. I knew how excited he would be about this season, just the same way I am when you only play 15 or 17 games,” he said. “I really could have seen Derek playing until he was 44 or 45.”
Teixeira turns 34 in April and hopes to have five more productive seasons. He might not be ready when New York’s exhibition season starts Feb. 25, but he thinks he’ll be on the field sometime during the first week.
“I absolutely plan on playing 150-plus games this year. That’s my goal,” Teixeira said. “Every now and then I’ll have a day off, of course. That’s just natural. You get beat up a little bit during the season, but I expect to have a healthy, productive season.”
He had more pop from his bat during his 49 right-handed swings than his 47 from the left side — although he said he felt his swing path was a lot better from the left. Given his injury, sustained while hitting off a tee last March 5, his wrist stiffness likely is more of an issue hitting left-handed — when the right hand provides most of the power.
“You can definitely tell I had surgery. But I had ankle surgery 13 years ago and I could tell I had ankle surgery after 13 years,” he said. “So, it’s just something I’m going to have to make sure that I loosen up, and make sure I do all the proper rehab and strengthening exercises.”
A two-time All-Star, Teixeira usually is a slow starter. He has a .278 career average and 341 homers, but through April 30 each year his average is just .238 with 33 home runs in 11 seasons. A poor April wouldn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t sufficiently healed.
“I can always use that ammo,” Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said. “So that’s in our back pocket.”
Teixeira said his surgeon, Dr. Keith Raskin of New York University School of Medicine, told him the wrist will continue to improve for a year after the operation. But there always will be worries of a setback until Teixeira proves to himself that the injury isn’t a hindrance, that he regularly can clear Yankee Stadium’s right-field wall with what broadcaster John Sterling calls a “Tex message.”
“There’s going to be a mental part of it. He’s going to have to get over the hump,” Long said.
Teixeira watched from his home in Connecticut as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made his moves.
“I was texting Cash like every two weeks, telling him congrats on another signing and great offseason,” he said. “I basically told him: You did your job, now it’s time for us to do ours. So no excuses this year. We have a team that can compete for a world championship.”
Teixeira says he hasn’t been this eager for a season since he was a rookie with Texas in 2003. His bounce back could determine whether the Yankees rebound.
“I take (a) silver lining in everything, and for me this year off — basically a year off — was me realizing how lucky I am to play baseball, realizing how much I loved playing baseball,” he said. “I did a lot of charity stuff this offseason and spent a bunch of time with my family, and I loved that time, but I’m a baseball player, and there’s nothing cooler than playing baseball for a living. And taking that year off really made realize that I want to do it as long as I can.”
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