NEW YORK -- In case you hadn't heard, the Yankees aren't hitting, so of course the focus turns to hitting coach Kevin Long, who is supposed to have some magic formula to turn the season-long offensive swoon around.
This is a product of The Boss Era, when the hired help was always taking the fall for the failures of the players. No one in the Yankees' organization has suggested that Long is at fault for the lack of offense, and there is no indication that the hitting coach's job is in jeopardy.
But like everyone involved with the surprisingly disappointing 2014 Yankees, who fell to 41-42, 4 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, with Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Long is searching for answers. And, like manager Joe Girardi, he believes the answers are no further away than the Yankees' clubhouse.
"Obviously offense has been an issue all season," Long said. "These guys understand it, I understand it. We’ve got to turn it around and we’ve got to believe the guys that are in the room, they’re the only guys that can turn it around."
Asked what exactly a hitting coach can do to reverse this trend, Long said, "Well, you certainly can't yell, scream or do any of that. It’s more about just staying the course and keep doing the things that you normally do. And sometimes you even get away from that, and you just tell them to see the ball and hit it."
Long singled out Brian McCann, who had a home run and a single, and Carlos Beltran, who had two singles, as showing signs of coming out of their hitting fog today. McCann, particularly, worked at eliminating a toe tap in his swing, and Long said he saw a difference.
Yangervis Solarte, however, who is mired in a horrible slump and whose average is down to .260., is another story.
After going 0-for-4 (two strikeouts) and making a costly throwing error, Solarte acknowledged that he needs to make an adjustment at the plate, but had no idea exactly what adjustment to make.
"I don't think they're pitching him any differently," Long said of Solarte. "It's more of what he's doing. When Solarte was swinging the bat well he was very aggressive and he was swinging with authority. Now he’s just a little bit in between and a little bit unsure. I'm sure he's feeling a little pressure. He’s a rookie so someone like that will probably put a little more pressure on himself than a veteran will."
But Long was quick to say that Solarte should not be singled out, that the entire offense was not performing as expected. "It’s not from lack of effort, it’s not from not wanting to do it, it’s just one of those things where everybody needs to pick it up a little bit," Long said. "That includes the Gardners and the Ellsburys, who have done well all year, as well as those guys that have underperformed. We all need to pick it up."
New York Yankees
New start for Nuno: Once again, Vidal Nuno took the loss at Yankee Stadium, his fifth in six decisions at home this season. But in a sign of progress, he kept the ball in the ballpark for the second straight home start after allowing 12 HRs in his previous eight career home starts.
Nuno actually didn't pitch that badly, allowing four runs (three earned) in five-plus innings. And when he left it was a 3-3 tie. But Shawn Kelley allowed the first batter he faced, Sean Rodriguez, to hit the back wall of the loading dock in left-center, some 445 feet away, giving the Rays a 5-3 lead and making Nuno a loser once again.
"Overall, I felt good," Nuno (2-5) said. "Commanding all my pitches. The only thing I can control is on the mound and where I’m throwing. The offense came through a little bit today and gave me some run support, but unfortunately, they found a way to come back."
Gardy goes yardy: Brett Gardner's leadoff home run gave him eight for the season, matching his career high (2013). Gardner went 3-for-5 and is now tied with Jacoby Ellsbury for the team batting average lead at .288.
Minny ha-ha: Here are the pitching matchups for the four-game series against the Twins beginning tomorrow night at Target Field:
Masahiro Tanaka (11-3, 2.10) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (8-4, 3.58), Thursday night at 8:05 p.m.; Chase Whitley (3-2, 4.70) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (7-6, 3.77) Friday afternoon at 3:10 p.m.; David Phelps (3-4, 4.26) vs. RHP Yohan Pino (0-2, 6.32) Saturday afternoon and Hiroki Kuroda (5-6, 4.08) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (5-6, 5.49) on Sunday, both games at 2:10 p.m.