By Abby Sims
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Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira says he’s feeling healthy and plans to play through the season, though he intentionally started off spring training at a deliberate pace. Recently Teixeira began ramping up the demands on him at the plate in preparation to begin Grapefruit League play in early March.
Teixeira had surgery on July 1 to repair a torn ECU (extensor carpi ulnaris) tendon sheath in his right wrist. He had initially attempted to manage the injury conservatively after sustaining the tear at the outset of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Though projected to return to the lineup for Opening Day, Teixeira is on the record as acknowledging that his surgeon, Dr. Keith Raskin, said the wrist should continue to improve throughout the 2014 season – status quo for soft tissue healing, which takes about a year for the tensile strength of the tissue to be fully restored.
A switch-hitting slugger who throws righty, Teixeira’s right-handed swing reportedly comes more naturally to him. That is born out by his career splits. With a .278 overall batting average, Teixeira has hit .267 from the left side against right-handed pitchers and .300 as a righty against left-handed pitching. However, the fact that he bats from the left side about two-thirds of the time has also certainly influenced this statistic. Teixeira’s declining numbers in recent injury-plagued years have also influenced his overall stats.
In 2010, hitting coach Kevin Long was quoted as saying that when Teixeira hits right-handed he stands taller in the batter’s box and has a more level swing because his dominant (now also post-operative) right hand is on top. However, he also said that Teixeira had more power from the left side, at least partly because he tended to pull the ball with an uppercut. His current career splits show him to have hit a home run in 6.18 percent of his lefty at-bats and 5.51 percent of those from the right side of the plate.
So, what does a still improving right wrist mean for Teixeira at the plate in 2014?
Though power hitting requires that both hands and wrists function well and with coordinated mechanics, the role of each extremity varies. Let’s start with the accepted logic that the upper hand/wrist – the left for a left-handed batter – provides the majority of the power when hitting, while the bottom hand/wrist is largely responsible for the control required to guide the bat.
When hitting, while the upper forearm/wrist is stressed primarily due to pronation (closing the palm toward the floor) on impact and follow-through, the lower wrist is stressed due to supination (opening up the palm toward the ceiling) and ulnar deviation (angling the hand toward the pinky side). Thus, the lower wrist is more vulnerable to injury to the ECU sheath. Does that mean that Teixeira will be more guarded batting from the left side?
It doesn’t seem so, because though recent reports from spring training indicate that it appears Teixeira has been hitting better from the right side, the player was quoted as saying that he feels that is not the case. We will soon see for ourselves once the first baseman sees action during games. It would not be surprising to see Teixeira playing incomplete games in the early spring, resting here and there to avoid early overuse.
Another thing we will look at as time progresses is whether Teixeira prefers to pull the ball, hit more straight away or whether he tends to hit more naturally to the opposite field. The influence of the turn of the shoulder and hips, the placement of the pitch, the type of pitch and its velocity all play a role in this outcome as well as the wrist action of the lower hand.
The bottom line though? Dr. Keith Raskin, an excellent yet conservative surgeon whom I know well, would not have cleared Teixeira to play unless he exhibited full muscle strength and range of motion and no longer complained of pain.
Yes, complete recovery will take a while longer, but Teixeira should be ready to contribute.
That’s something all Yankees fans can cheer about.
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