New normal? Tex looking like old self again

NEW YORK -- The home runs count the same, whether they land in the first row or in the second deck. But that's not to say they all mean the same.

Not for Mark Teixeira, they don't. Not this year, when he's still trying to prove to himself (even more than to anyone else) that the right wrist injury that cost him so much of the 2013 season hadn't permanently changed the kind of hitter he could be.

Teixeira wasn't sure, which is why he was talking about a "new normal" even as this season began.

And that's why it means so much that Teixeira hasn't just spent this week hitting home runs. He's launching homers into the second deck, as he did Saturday in the New York Yankees' 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

"It's a very good sign," Teixeira admitted.

He still can't say he'll ever feel the same as he did before the injury. But now that he's back to batting third and back to looking like he should (four home runs in the past five games, tied for the team lead with five, despite two weeks on the disabled list), there's no more of that "new normal" talk, at least not about his expected results.

The only concessions Teixeira makes now to the wrist injury are in what he does before games. He doesn't take nearly as many swings in the cage before regular batting practice begins.

He's learning, and he still talks about all this as being a work in progress. He talks about rust, natural for a guy who played every day for years and then managed to get in just 15 games last season.

Saturday, coincidentally, was Teixeira's 15th game this season. He ended it with a .269 batting average. More significantly, Teixeira has a 1.106 OPS in the 10 games he has played since his time on the DL with a right hamstring strain.

It was that time on the DL, Teixeira believes, that gave his wrist time to strengthen.

"I said from the beginning when I went on the DL that it could be a blessing in disguise, and it was," Teixeira said. "The first couple of days [of the season], I was protecting [the wrist] a little. When I came back from the DL, it started feeling better, and I started getting good swings."

A few days after coming off the DL, Teixeira hit his first home run, into the first row of the Monster seats at Fenway. The four home runs this week have traveled much farther.

"The results are great," he said. "You can grind out at-bats, work walks, but you want to put up numbers. When you do, it makes you feel better."

And when the numbers come packaged with home runs that land in the second deck, Teixeira's new normal starts looking and feeling a lot like the old normal.

Tanaka impresses again: Masahiro Tanaka gave up eight hits, the most he has as a Yankee. His split-finger fastball wasn't its normal devastating self. And he still made it through seven innings while allowing just three runs, and won again to improve to 4-0.

"He's a top-of-the-rotation starter," catcher Brian McCann said. "It's hard to believe he's only 25."

Manager Joe Girardi allowed Tanaka to throw a season-high 113 pitches, and said that he almost sent him out to face one batter in the eighth inning, too. In six Yankees starts, Tanaka has finished the seventh inning five times (and pitched into the seventh the other time).

Better from Betances: Girardi spoke Saturday about his growing confidence in rookie Dellin Betances, and showed it by handing a three-run lead to Betances in the eighth inning. Betances responded with a scoreless inning.

"I feel comfortable, and my confidence is where it needs to be," Betances said.