Yankees Notebook: Teixeira to third, Soriano to closer

Mark Teixeira.

Mark Teixeira stood at his locker and said all the right things about hitting third after spending two days as the team’s No. 7 hitter.

A few minutes into his session with reporters before Wednesday night’s game with the Royals, he freely confessed something that numbers will back up.

“I think, for me, I’ve been putting too many balls in play,” Teixeira said. “That sounds crazy. But I don’t think I’ve been as aggressive at the plate. So when I’m swinging, instead of fouling a pitch off or missing it — there’s nothing wrong with missing the first pitch of an at-bat — but if you ground it out or pop it up, you go, ‘Man I just wasted that at-bat.’”

Teixeira has a .229 batting average through 153 at-bats and 167 plate appearances. So far, he has seen 616 pitches. That translates to 3.68 pitches per at-bat, which is the lowest of his career.

Teixeira has walked just 11 times and his .281 on-base percentage is the lowest among Yankee regulars. His average has also not been helped by a career-high 46.7 percent groundball rate, up from 34.9 in 2011.

It also means that when Teixeira is putting balls into play he has a .231 average, which among regular first baseman is the fifth-worst in the majors. It ranks ahead of Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, Ike Davis and Eric Hosmer.

The statistic measures batted balls with home runs excluded and for Teixeira, that number has declined from .302 in 2009. In 2010, it was the second-worst in the game among first baseman and last season his .239 BABIP was the worst at his position. That occurred even as Teixeira slugged 39 home runs and drove in 111 runs.

“I’ve been putting too many balls in play,” Teixeira said. “Instead of taking that swing to hit a home run and to drive the ball, I’ve never been someone that just wants to put the ball in play. And in years past on a 1-0 pitch or a 2-0 pitch and it’s maybe a little bit up or a little bit down, you swing and foul it off or you swing and miss. Now I’m putting that ball in play, which sucks.”

Since returning, Teixeira’s at-bats have been mixed in terms of pitches seen. He saw three pitches in his first at-bat Tuesday and grounded into a double play, but faced five pitches in his next at-bat and lined a double that began the Yankees’ modest comeback.

“If you look at his at-bats, I think they’ve gotten better,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Unfortunately, he’s been plagued by this cough. I still see him cough from time to time. Obviously not as much as I did before.”

Eppley into the fire

On Tuesday, with Cory Wade and Boone Logan already used and the injuries to David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the eighth inning was split by Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada.

Eppley has a sidearm motion, which is designed to get ground balls when the time calls for one.  When he entered a one-run game with nobody out and a runner on first, that is exactly what he delivered

“You look at his track record; he is a ground ball guy and that’s kind of how I have to use him,” Girardi said. “If you’re looking for a double play or a runner on third with the infield in, those are the situations that I’ve kind of picked for him the last couple of days.”

So far, Eppley has faced 33 hitters and gotten 15 ground balls. In those 8 1/3 innings, he has allowed seven hits, though Tuesday was the first time he pitched in the eighth with a one-run lead.

“He’s obviously throwing from his arm angle, so he’s going to have more success against right-handers than left-handers, so I’m going to have to pick that [time].”

Sticking with Soriano

Rafael Soriano, who has publicly stated he is more comfortable closing games than setting up, may get to remain in that role when Robertson returns from the DL.

For the first time since losing Robertson, Girardi hinted at the possibility of keeping Soriano in that role.

“I’m comfortable bringing in Sori where we are bringing him because of his experience of what he has done,” Girardi said.

Of course, Girardi is not going to look too far ahead.

“Here is my prayer,” Girardi said. “Let’s get Robbie back where he is feeling comfortable. Let’s get him in a game before we start making any official decisions.”

Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.


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