Tex's slow starts could finally be toast

NEW YORK -- His struggles this time of the year are legendary.

If it's April, or in this case the end of March, Mark Teixeira is usually missing in action. Then sometime in May, when the weather warms up, so does his bat.

But his early-season struggles might be a thing of the past if Opening Day 2011 is any indication. In the New York Yankees' 6-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, Teixeira hit a three-run homer.

And it wasn't a cheapie.

Better yet, it didn't come off some also-ran pitcher, either. In the third inning, with runners on first and third and one out, Teixeira drilled a 96-mph fastball from Tigers ace Justin Verlander down the right-field line and into the stands.

"I was looking for something to drive in the air," said Teixeira, who gave the Yankees' a 3-1 advantage with one swing of the bat. "I wanted to get that run in no matter what -- first and third, less than two outs.

"I got a ball up in the zone."

The Yankees must be thrilled he didn't miss it. But they should be even more excited that this could be the beginning of a fast start for a major part of their offense. In Tex's first two years in pinstripes, the Yankees had to win early without him. And last April might have been the worst.

Teixeira hardly looked like an All-Star slugger. In the first month of the season, the first baseman batted a woeful .136 with two home runs in 81 at-bats. "Last year was awful," Teixeira said. "There's no other way to put it. It was embarrassing."

Most, though, ignored it because the Yankees were able to survive his unproductive April and still make it to the postseason last year. But this isn't 2010. With the offseason additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the Boston Red Sox have reloaded, and are considered the favorite in the American League East.

The last thing the Yankees want to do this season is fall into a hole behind the explosive Red Sox. If Tex can hit like he's capable, the Yankees will be in a great position to battle from Day 1.

In the offseason, Teixeira said he wanted to come out of the gate in a better position to excel in 2011.

"When you have that bad of a start, and last year overall for me wasn't good," he said. "I expect a lot out of myself.

"Personally, and as a team, we didn't accomplish our goals."

Hence, Teixeira talked with hitting coach Kevin Long over the winter break. The idea was to change some of his normal routine.

"I told him my bat feels a little slow sometimes, I'm a little tired maybe to start the season because of all the extra work in spring training," Teixeira said.

So Teixeira hit a little bit less in the offseason and hit a little less in spring training. "The idea was to cut back on other things and hopefully it's going to work," he said.

Verlander would be the first one to think the new approach to the start of the season was a smart one. Verlander said that Tex just missed a home run on the same pitch in his first at-bat of the season. He wound up drawing a walk.

"Obviously, I wasn't trying to throw it there again, but he was ready for it," Verlander, whom Teixeira had managed just one hit against in 17 previous at-bats before Thursday's homer, said. "It was still a decent pitch. You have to tip your cap to him. He did a good job getting his barrel on it, he was ready for it."

For Teixeira, it was the third time in his career that he homered on Opening Day.

But this one was different. It was a ray of hope for the Yankees, who entered the season as underdogs for a change. A hot bat by Teixeira could come in handy.

"He had a good game," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "He swung the bat well. You want that to continue."

The Yankees can only hope so.