Commentary

It's like April all over again for Teixeira

Mr. May And Beyond is lost at the plate -- and has no idea how he's going to find himself

Updated: May 23, 2010, 11:59 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Mark Teixeira isn't sure if more work is the problem or the solution. He can't quite put his finger on whether his bat is too slow or too fast, if he needs to take more swings in the cage or fewer, if it's time to load up the barbells or strip them down.

All he knows is, two weeks ago he felt as if he couldn't get any better at the plate but now, "I couldn't get any worse."

The Yankees lost 5-3 to the Mets on Saturday night at Citi Field, a good, close, well-pitched and mostly well-played game that justified the hype these Subway Series games always seem to generate but rarely seem to live up to.

[+] EnlargeMark Teixeira
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesMark Teixeira's customary April showers are refusing to go away in May.

Teixeira wasn't the only reason the Yankees lost -- there was an OK, but certainly not lights-out start by Phil Hughes, and an exceptional start by the Mets' Mike Pelfrey, to begin with, and a costly miss of a routine fly ball by Randy Winn, plus some very timely hitting by the Mets.

All of those were factors in the outcome. And yet, the enduring image of this game has got to be Teixeira batting in the seventh inning of a 4-1 game with runners at second and third and a tremendous opportunity to turn up the heat on Jenrry Mejia, a green-as-grass, 20-year-old right-hander who probably would not even be in the big leagues if not for the desperation of his team.

On paper, this should have been a mismatch, the eight-year veteran who has averaged 35 homers and 115 RBIs a season against the kid with all of 19 major league innings on his résumé.

And on grass and clay, it was an even bigger mismatch, the kid firing a 97 mph, full-count fastball down at Teixeira's feet and the dangerous veteran swinging over it for the second out of the inning, and perhaps the biggest out of the game.

"It felt terrible," Teixeira said in the losing clubhouse, his words conveying a despair that his face and voice did their best to disguise. "For a week or so there, I felt great and now I feel the exact opposite."

It was on May 8 in Boston that Teixeira and the rest of his Yankees teammates declared his April woes finally, definitively over, following a three-home run performance in the Yankees' 14-3 laugher, made even funnier by the fact his third home run came at the expense of Jonathan Van Every, an outfielder.

But there has been nothing funny about the way Teixeira has hit since that game, or the way the Yankees have played. Following a typically horrendous April, in which he hit .136 with two homers and nine RBIs, Teixeira busted out over the first eight days of May, going 12-for-30 (.400) and culminating with that three-homer, five-RBI breakout at Fenway.

But in the 14 games since, he has swooned to 11-for-56 (.196), with just two more homers and, most alarmingly, 14 strikeouts, including three Saturday night. Not coincidentally, the Yankees have gone 5-9 over that span, their record plunging from a sparkling 21-8 (.724) to their current 26-17.

"I wish I could have stayed the way I was that second game in Boston," he said. "But it left me there."

And the worst part of all is that Teixeira, who is outwardly glib and optimistic but broods inwardly about his hitting, seems to have not the slightest idea of how to fix things.

"I took a lot of swings to get things right in May, and the first couple of weeks it really paid off," he said. "Maybe I'm taking too many swings. Maybe I need to step back, relax and worry about hitting the ball."

If it seems contradictory, well, it is. That is what happens when something that has always worked suddenly stops working. The hitter starts groping for answers as blindly as he is groping for pitches. More work helped early in the month; now, Teixeira seems to think less work is the answer. He feels as if his bat has been slow and that he's been behind on too many pitches; his manager feels as if he's getting out ahead of himself.

"It seems like he's having a hard time staying back right now," Joe Girardi said. "He's out in front. He's swinging and missing some. It looks like he's not picking up the ball at times. He's just struggling a little bit. But he's gonna hit."

On that point, Teixeira and Girardi agree, although neither seem able to explain just how. Both are putting their faith in his history, which has been remarkably consistent, but neither seems to have a cohesive, coherent plan for how to get him back to it.

"I'll take a step back," Teixeira said when asked what his next move would be. "Maybe cut back on the lifting, cut back on all the extra swings. I'm in the cage a lot, especially being a switch-hitter. I take twice as many swings on a normal day, then sometimes I take twice as many swings on top of that. Maybe I'm swinging too much. Maybe the off day on Monday is gonna help. Maybe I'll have a good day against Johan and I'll take it from there."

Considering Teixeira's career numbers against the Mets' ace -- 6-for-26, a .231 batting average -- that is like a guy without a job planning to balance his checkbook by hitting the lottery.

But right now, positive thinking is the only kind Teixeira will indulge in.

"It's a little frustrating, but my entire career I've taken it on my shoulders to get big hits, to drive in runs, to hit with runners in scoring position," he said. "I've driven in a lot of RBIs. I relish that position. I'm gonna take a step back and get back to what I've always done, and that's produce. It's gonna turn around. It's gonna turn around quick."

That much, Mark Teixeira is sure of. Just don't ask him to explain how.

GAME NOTES: Hughes (5-1) had his second straight subpar outing, allowing the first three Mets runs on rallies that began with two out and nobody on. "It seemed like I could get a quick two outs but I couldn't put the inning away," he said. "I was throwing strikes but they weren't good strikes, they were all over the place." ... To his credit, Winn made no excuses for botching Angel Pagan's sixth-inning fly ball, which he seemed to overrun. The resulting leadoff double turned into the Mets' fourth run of the game on Alex Cora's double. "I just missed it," he said. "No excuses. It's a play I should have made and I didn't make it." ... Javier Vazquez played catch before the game and said his bruised right index finger came out OK. "It didn't really hurt," he said, leaving the clubhouse without a bandage. "I should be able to throw my bullpen Monday or Tuesday." As of now, Vazquez is still scheduled to pitch Thursday in Minnesota. ... Great pitching matchup for Sunday night's rubber game -- CC Sabathia (4-2, 3.43) versus Johan Santana (3-2, 3.72).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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