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Brett Gardner hampered by wrist injury in 2015, says new hitting coach

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner had a strange 2015 season.

He batted .302 in the first half, had an OBP of .377, hit 10 home runs, stole 15 bases in 18 attempts and made his first All-Star team. It is safe to say he was one of the best players on his team.

But in the second half, Gardner spiraled downward and was arguably among the worst-hitting outfielders in the league (his neighbor in center field, Jacoby Ellsbury, was another). Over the second half, Gardner hit just .206. His OBP dropped to .300. He hit just six more home runs. And he stole just five more bases.

Aside from allowing that all his players were "beat up" over the second half, Joe Girardi repeatedly denied that Gardner was playing through an injury, and, needless to say, Gardner would never admit to it.

But new Yankees hitting coach Alan Cockrell, speaking on a conference call with beat writers on Wednesday, said that Gardner was troubled for much of the season by a wrist injury suffered when he was hit by a pitch, even if its effects did not really show up until after the All-Star break.

"I know it happened early in the season, and then he was hit again repetitively two or three different times on or very near the initial hit by pitch," said Cockrell, who served as the Yankees assistant hitting coach last season under Jeff Pentland, whose contract was not renewed. "(Gardner) downplayed it and I probably shouldn’t up-play it when he downplayed it, but facts are facts. If you don’t have your hands, it’s tough to hit."

Cockrell could not recall exactly when it happened -- he thought when the Yankees were in Tampa in mid-April -- or which wrist was injured, but Gardner was hit on the right wrist with a pitch in Baltimore on April 13 and was sent for an MRI. It was the same wrist that had undergone surgery after the 2010 season for the removal of some damaged muscle tissue.

Gardner sat out the next two games but never went on the disabled list and wound up playing 151 games. But Cockrell said Gardner received several cortisone shots in the wrist over the course of the season, which would provide temporary relief. "I do know Gardy well enough to know he would try to avoid (the DL) at any and all costs. His personality, he's a gamer. He never wants to come out of a ballgame or not start a ballgame."

The wrist injury might also explain why Gardner attempted only seven stolen bases in the second half of the season; as a player who slides head, and hands, first, it might have been too painful to hit the bag with an injured wrist. Gardner finished the season at .259 with 16 home runs, 66 RBIs and a team-high 94 runs scored.