Long HR drought finally over for Chase Headley in Yankees' win

NEW YORK -- Chase Headley could not remember the last time he hit a home run. Nor was he interested in being reminded.

"I don't even want to know,'' he said. "I know it was a long time ago.''

Sept. 12, 2015, to be exact, a span of 170 at-bats. And he has been so bad this season that he was unable to pinpoint its low point.

"It's been pretty crummy all year, to be honest,'' he said.

But he will have no trouble pinpointing his high point so far. That came Thursday in the second inning of the New York Yankees' victory over the Kansas City Royals. Batting left-handed against right-handed starter Ian Kennedy, the switch-hitter took a 93 mph fastball the other way, lining it into the lower left-field seats for a two-run homer.

It was not only Headley's first homer of the season but also his first extra-base hit, coming in his 91st at-bat after a series of 16 mostly weak singles.

Through it all, however, one thought allowed Headley to maintain his belief that at some point he would break out.

"My swing works,'' he said. "I've seen it work and I know that it works. I just haven't had it for a while.''

There is no way of knowing, of course, whether Headley has his swing back for good or whether it merely made a one-night reappearance in the Yankees' 7-3 victory, their third win in four games this week against the defending world champion Royals. But it's a start.

"There was never a question in my mind that I was going to come out of it – and that I will come out of it,'' he said after a rare two-hit night (he added a ninth-inning single) that lifted his batting average to .194, his second-highest mark of the season. He had reached the .200 plateau after a two-hit game against the Oakland Athletics on April 19.

"I’m very confident in who I am as a player,'' he said. "But you have to produce. When you’re playing here and the team’s not playing well, you know you have to get it going. The confidence in the short term wasn’t as high as it usually is, so it was frustrating. But never have I thought, ‘I’m not going to hit anymore.’”

With his relatively short four-year contract and relatively inexpensive $13 million annual salary, Headley sits solidly in the middle class among Yankee nonproducers. He's not in the same tax bracket as Mark Teixeira ($23 million salary, .194 batting average), Alex Rodriguez ($21 million, .194) or Jacoby Ellsbury ($21 million, .260). But that has not helped Headley fly under the radar with New York fans, and it certainly was not lost on him when manager Joe Girardi sat him for a few games in late April and early May in favor of Ronald Torreyes.

"The times that were toughest for me was when I came up in a situation where the game was on the line or I had a chance to come through with a big hit and wasn’t able to do it,'' he said. "Move a runner, drive somebody in from third with less than two outs; those hurt as much as anything. When the team’s not winning and not scoring runs, those for me are probably the most frustrating.”

But Headley, among the more popular guys in the clubhouse because of his relaxed, no-excuses demeanor, found his teammates a lot easier on him than he was on himself, and as he returned to the dugout after his round trip of the bases, there was no silent treatment. In fact, everyone in the dugout seemed a lot more excited than the player who had hit the home run.

“I’ve seen that a number of times here,'' he said. "I think they’ve been as supportive and helpful in getting through a tough time as they possibly can be. It’s not an easy place to play when you’re not playing well. These guys have been tremendous and I’m very appreciative for them.”

Headley also credited Reggie Jackson with helping him make a mechanical adjustment in his swing that he believes has made a difference.

“I was hitting so many ground balls to second base; I was trying to fight to stay inside of it,'' he said. "When you’re doing that, you’re not really taking aggressive swings. I was finally able to find something to help me clear my hands, get my hands out in front of me. When you do that, you don’t have to think about where the ball is going or where you’re trying to hit it. You just let it go.''

For one night at least, Headley was finally able to let it go. “It’s a good feeling,'' he said. "It’s been a long time. It felt like it’s been a really long time. To get the first one out of the way was good. Good start, but I got to keep it going.''

Now, Headley has the same number of home runs as Bartolo Colon and one fewer than Noah Syndergaard. And it's a safe bet it won't be another 170 at-bats before he hits another one.

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Catching prospect Gary Sanchez has been promoted to the Yankees from the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, according to Shane Hennigan, who covers the team for the Scranton Times-Tribune. But the Yankees refused to confirm that after the game, preferring to wait until Friday when they announce the corresponding roster move. The best guess is that either RHP Nick Goody or LHP Tyler Olson, who was called up on Thursday, will be sent down to make room for Sanchez.