Bonus notes and thoughts from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Yankees-Tigers game on Saturday night …
About two weeks ago, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said that Alex Rodriguez’s ratio of ground balls to fly balls was nearly 2.5-1.
That ratio is insanely high for a power hitter; Rodriguez’s ground-ball rate has climbed the past five years, but entering the season still was only about 1.1-1.
So, Long and Rodriguez went to work.
Long said he talked about “forward movement” with Rodriguez, going toward the pitcher with his body rather than staying centered and behind the ball.
He also advised Rodriguez to minimize his leg kick and keep it vertical, as opposed to moving his leg backward and creating a greater distance before he gets his foot down.
“It’s too hard to hit that way,” Long said. “You’re always playing catch-up. Your strike-zone discipline goes. You can’t get to balls you’re used to getting to."
Rodriguez made the adjustments, but has yet to show marked improvement. He is putting more balls in the air — his ratio of ground balls to fly balls is down to 1.7 to 1 — but has hit only eight homers in his first 193 at-bats.
Long, though, said he isn’t worried by Rodriguez’s seemingly diminished power. The Yankees measure velocity off the bat, and Long said that Rodriguez is hitting the ball quite hard.
“The home run part of it, people are freaking out,” Long said. “But if he had three more home runs, he’d be on pace for 33 (actually 34). That’s not that far off what we’re shooting for. We’re shooting for 30 to 35. We still feel that is an attainable goal.”
MIGUEL, ON THE OTHER HAND . . .
According to the Tigers’ media guide, only 47 of the 1,936 home runs hit at Comerica Park during its first 12 seasons cleared the center-field wall.
That’s just under four per season, which makes Miguel Cabrera’s achievement on Saturday night all the more remarkable.
Cabrera hit two home runs to center in the Tigers’ 4-3 victory, becoming the first player to manage that feat at Comerica in the same game.
“A lot of footage, to say the least,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Yet, from my position next to the Tigers’ dugout, what stood out most about Cabrera on this night was how much he cares.
Leyland said that Cabrera was “really upset with himself” after popping out on the first pitch with one out and a runner on third following a 39-minute rain delay in the first inning.
Cabrera produced two homers and a double in his next three at-bats, but grew even more frustrated with himself after he made the first out of the sixth inning trying to advance to third on a ball in the dirt.
Visibly agitated, Cabrera shoved a water cooler, sat alone for an extended time after the inning ended and kicked dirt upon returning to the field.
Clearly, the man wants to win.
KURODA: COMING AROUND?
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda produced his second straight strong start Saturday night, so perhaps he is growing more comfortable in his first season with the Yankees.
Kuroda, of course, was quite comfortable in his four seasons with the Dodgers, and it never made all that much sense for him to leave.
The Dodgers, though, did not want to pay Kuroda $10 million for one season like the Yankees did, and ultimately signed two other free agents, lefty Chris Capuano and righty Aaron Harang, to average salaries of $10.5 million combined in separate two-year deals.
Kuroda, 37, chose to make a transition — to a new coast, a new club, a new league. When I asked manager Joe Girardi about the pitcher’s demeanor in our pre-game meeting, he gave an interesting response.
“He puts a lot upon himself,” Girardi said. “Players from Japan feel a huge responsibility not to let their team down. They’re also representing their country more than most players. Sometimes, that can be a heavy weight.”
Kuroda spoke of his obligation to the Dodgers last season after turning down trades to the Tigers and Red Sox, saying he felt that he owed it to the team to finish his contract.
As a Yankee, he almost certainly experienced renewed pressure. He always competed hard with the Dodgers. Perhaps now he will start to regain his confidence with New York.
CC AND ANDY AND PRAY FOR . . .
At the moment, left-handers CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are the Yankees’ most reliable starters; righties Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova essentially are wild cards every time they throw.
Significant help isn’t coming from the minors, either; left-hander Manny Banuelos is on the DL with an elbow injury, and righty Dellin Betances has a 5.30 ERA at Triple A.
The Yankees could try to trade for a starter, but remember, they already have made one major deal of that nature, getting two pitchers who currently are injured — righty Michael Pineda and minor-league righty Jose Campos — for catcher Jesus Montero and righty Hector Noesi.
Most of the Yankees’ best remaining prospects are in Class A. They might not be willing or able to meet the price for a pitcher such as Cubs righty Matt Garza. The best solution is for the Yankees’ own pitchers to improve.
THE TIGERS’ SWEET BERRY
Tigers center fielder Quintin Berry, 27, was waived by the Phillies, left unprotected by the Padres, released by the Mets and told by the Reds that they had no at-bats for him in the minors — all within the last two years.
The Tigers, though, made Berry a priority last offseason, envisioning him as insurance against an injury to center fielder Austin Jackson. Berry agreed to a deal on Nov. 9, quite early for a minor-league free agent.
All the Tigers offered Berry was an invitation to major-league spring training and a chance to play at Triple A. To Berry, it sounded like heaven. In six minor-league seasons, he had played in only four games at Triple A.
Sure enough, Jackson went on the disabled list with an abdominal strain on May 25, creating an opening for Berry. Now look at him, batting .362 with a .934 OPS in 52 plate appearances and going 6-for-6 in stolen-base opportunities.
Don’t expect it to last — Berry has struck out 16 times and drawn only four walks — but it will be interesting to see if the Tigers keep him as a fourth outfielder after Jackson returns. A little more speed and defense certainly wouldn’t hurt this team.
Sometimes, a player just needs an opportunity. Berry is a classic case.
Without Jackson, the Tigers look even slower and less athletic than usual. Ditto for the Yankees without left fielder Brett Gardner.
Could it be that Gardner is the most underrated Yankee?
He is an elite defender in left, one of the Yankees’ fastest, most energetic players and a pivotal part of the offense, too.
The Yankees take pride in wearing down opposing starters. Gardner ranked first in the American League in pitches per plate appearance in 2010 and seventh last season.
THAT CRAZY CUTUP WEARING NO. 2
The public rarely sees Derek Jeter’s playful side, but his teammates, coaches and manager consider him an absolute riot.
Raul Ibanez wanted to keep it quiet that Saturday was his 40th birthday, but Jeter announced it loudly during the Yankees’ pre-game stretch after someone told him about it.
Jeter continued to tease Ibanez about his advanced age as the two took batting practice with Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. Never mind that Jeter turns 38 on June 26. He told Ibanez, “I’ll never catch up to you.”
During BP, Jeter presided over a spirited RBI competition, shouting and laughing as Girardi and Long served as judges. Girardi said that Jeter’s group always is the most entertaining, and that every other group is dull by comparison.
AROUND THE HORN
• The Tigers are last in the majors in converting groundballs into outs and the Yankees are next-to-last, according to Bloomberg Sports.
Granted, it’s not the defense’s fault that the Yankees are second in the AL in home runs allowed per nine innings. But pitchers are forced to throw additional pitches when defensive plays are not made, and the cumulative effect can tax a staff.
The Tigers are seventh in home runs allowed per nine.
• Looks like the Yankees made the right decision choosing Ibanez over Johnny Damon in free agency.
Ibanez is second on the Yankees in slugging percentage, while Damon is batting just .180 with a .528 OPS since joining the Indians on May 1.
Another thing: Ibanez might be the happiest Yankee, raving about every aspect of the organization, and hitting coach Kevin Long in particular.
Ibanez first became close with Long when the two were in the Royals’ organization together in the early 2000s.
• Brandon Laird, the younger brother of Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, is a corner infielder and outfielder in the Yankees’ organization who appeared in 11 major-league games last season.
Brandon is in a difficult spot; there is no position available for him, and he only got 27 at-bats in spring training; the Yankees at the time were looking at veterans such as Bill Hall and Russell Branyan, neither of whom made the team.
Gerald and Brandon played against each other in a spring-training game two years ago, but they have yet to face each other in the majors.
• Remember all the talk in spring training about how Tigers right fielder Brennan Boesch might have a monster year hitting second in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder?
That talk turned out to be premature, but Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski offers two explanations. One, Boesch is coming off major thumb surgery last September; the thumb still bothers him in cold weather, and the Tigers have rarely played in warm temperatures thus far.
Two, Boesch is very hard on himself, and that only makes matters worse when he is struggling.
• Tigers outfielder Andy Dirk played winter ball in the Dominican Republic the last two years, and became something of a folk hero for his performance in the playoffs for Escogido.
It’s not often that you see a guy play winter ball after appearing in the ALCS, but Dirks says he enjoys the lively atmosphere and that he learned a lot playing with retired veterans such as Julio Lugo, Fernando Tatis and Pablo Ozuna.
As a hitter, Dirks says, you are forced to learn how to hit line drives — the fields in the Dominican are huge, and the quality of the balls isn’t as good.