Commentary

Derek Jeter looks lost at the plate

Yankees' captain has abandoned his swing alterations after an early-season slump

Updated: April 11, 2011, 5:08 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- It is time to take a sip out of bitter winter brew, the "reality potion," when looking at Derek Jeter's game. He is not only failing to get hits, he is not even hitting many balls hard.

The new stance -- his bow to Father Time -- has now been abandoned. All the work that started last September and extended into this spring has been tucked away -- at least for now -- because on Saturday Jeter admitted frustration and on Sunday his hitting coach, Kevin Long, confirmed the whole new approach has been scrapped.

"It is more of what Derek Jeter has done for his whole career, yeah," Long said. "Even from my standpoint, it looks a lot more like what he did in the past."

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
David Butler II/US PresswireDerek Jeter was hitless in four at-bats on Sunday night.

On Saturday, Jeter said, "I'm striding the same. Everything's the same," and "I'm not doing anything different."

If you watch the games, you can see all this.

After ESPNNewYork.com and Newsday, the other outlet who originally interviewed Long prior to Sunday's game, reported his quotes, Long tried to backpedal. We don't know if Long got in trouble for talking about what everyone could see -- and he responded to very direct questions on tape -- but he tried to play down his pregame quotes, saying Jeter has stuck to the plan, which is competing. Of course, no one said anything about not competing.

The bigger issue is this: In our estimation, Jeter has hit two balls hard since the regular season started, and they weren't crushed by any means. His double on Friday and his Opening Day sacrifice fly were the only balls hit with any authority.

It is too soon to remove Jeter from the top of the order, but that conversation can't be that far off. Joe Girardi thinks Jeter deserves 100 to 150 at-bats before he can be fairly judged. So mark your calendar for a month from now.

In the meantime, Long described Jeter's start as "average," and that was before Jeter added his latest 0-for-4 in the Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday night. Jeter is now at a very soft .206 in his first 34-at-bats. Jeter doesn't look like his usual confident self out there.

"I'm fine," said Jeter, who added he is comfortable.

Before backpedaling on Sunday, Long confirmed what our eyes are seeing -- the new approach has been abandoned. So why exactly should anyone believe that Jeter will be better than his career-worst .270 batting average in 2010?

Nothing has really changed from last year, except Jeter looks worse. He can't hit the ball in the air or out of the infield.

Now, let's make this clear: It is early. Girardi is right that you judge baseball on larger samples than 34 at-bats. But we also have all of last year to remember. Jeter faded to the point the Yankees (somewhat) played hardball this winter even though they eventually gave Jeter $17 million per year for the next three seasons with a player option for a fourth year. The Yankees may soon be wishing they played harder ball.

There is a sense they saw this coming. Girardi may be preaching time, but the Yankees' front office, led by Brian Cashman, seemed to know they were paying Jeter for his past, not his present.

"We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account," Cashman famously told ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews during the winter negotiations. "We've encouraged him to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That's the way it works."

Instead the Yankees signed Jeter even as they wondered how much he had left.

Jeter is not going to quit. He has been lauded in this space and many other places, given the legend status that he has earned.

On Sunday before the game, he sat on a couch in the middle of the Yankees' clubhouse, as the Masters played on the big-screen TV. As Rory McIlroy fell apart, a reporter said that McIlroy was done. Jeter disagreed.

"That's why they play the whole game," Jeter said.

There are a lot of games left for Jeter to look different. Right now, he has gone back to his old approach, but he is not getting his old results.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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