Commentary

Curtis Granderson's Motown momentum

A year after he looked like a bust, center fielder is busting out for the Yanks

Updated: May 2, 2011, 4:00 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- At this time last year, it looked as though the New York Yankees might have been had. Former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson ended April with a .364 average for the Detroit Tigers, while Curtis Granderson was at .225 with two homers and seven RBIs in pinstripes.

It appeared that the Yankees might have made a three-for-one trade and not even have ended up with the best player in the deal. It pained general manager Brian Cashman to give up Jackson, Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke in the winter of 2009, but Cashman believed Granderson could be an elite power hitter. That faith was being tested, but the Yankees never wavered in their opinion.

[+] EnlargeGranderson
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireGranderson starred with the glove as well on Sunday, robbing Bautista with this running catch.

Before hitting coach Kevin Long's renowned August intervention last season, he had watched plenty of video of Granderson. Prior to the trade, Long told Yankees decision-makers Granderson could grow as a hitter, even against lefties.

Now, as the Yankees head into Detroit on Monday, Granderson is not only the best player in the trade by a long shot, he is one of the elite power hitters in the game. Meanwhile, Jackson is hitting under .200 and entered Sunday leading the AL in strikeouts.

With a three-run, fifth-inning homer on Sunday afternoon, Granderson gave the Yankees the lead in their 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was Granderson's eighth of the year, putting him on pace for 52 this season. Last year, Granderson didn't nail his eighth homer until July 25.

Since Long reworked his swing in the middle of last August, Granderson has hit 22 homers -- third-best in the game over that time, trailing the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista (27) and the Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (23).

The transformation is almost unfathomable. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to search his mind to think about an established major leaguer -- remember, Granderson had been an All-Star with the Tigers -- who made such a drastic switch that resulted in such dramatic results.

"I'm not necessarily sure I've seen a 29-year-old guy adjust the way he has," Girardi said.

With more thought, Girardi mentioned Andres Galarraga, Girardi's former teammate. Galarraga, at 32, opened his stance and used the thin air of Denver to help him go from .243/10/39 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 to .370/22/98 with the Rockies in 1993.

Long pointed across the field Sunday to Bautista as a guy who has made such swift improvements as a comparison point for Granderson. Both will get the green light on 3-0 counts now.

"You look all the way back to August and Curtis has been a different player for us," Girardi said. "That is one of the reasons we turned him loose 3-0, because we love the way he is swinging the bat. It is his ability to hit the ball out of the park."

He didn't do it on the 3-0 pitch, but on a 3-2 he went yard off the Jays' Jesse Litsch. It tied Granderson with Robinson Cano for the team lead in homers with eight.

"He is just not missing pitches," Long said.

Is 50 a legit possibility?

"Fifty is a big number," Long said. "I don't want to put that on him. He certainly is on a little bit of a power surge."

That is how he heads into Detroit. A year ago, Granderson missed the Yankees' trip to Comerica Park because he was on the DL. This year, he is bringing his parents from Chicago for the series. Everything has come together.

The only thing he can't do right now is knot a tie. As Granderson spoke with the media, bat boy Mike Fosina configured the neckwear and flipped it to Granderson.

"I've been struggling this year," Granderson said of knotting his own ties. "For some reason, I get in the offseason and the next thing you know I go through a little tie slump."

It may be the only slump Granderson will have to deal with all year.

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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