The last few weeks have been a rough time for Nick Swisher. He has gone from a scorching second-place hitter to slumping even as the Yankees have arisen from a nearly a month-long slumber.
The slump continued in Swisher’s first two at-bats, but in his third, Swisher left no doubt about his swing. He belted a pivotal grand slam during a seven-run fourth inning in Thursday’s 10-7 victory over the Blue Jays.
Swisher came into his third at-bat mired in a 10-for-71 slump that saw 23 of his at-bats end with strikeouts. He stuck out swinging in the first inning and was caught looking at a close pitch in the third.
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When he came up in the fourth with a chance to widen a two-run lead, Swisher ignored two off-speed pitches from reliever Brad Lincoln and then got a hold of a 2-1 fastball and crushed it into the right-field seats.
“In a situation like that, all you’re trying to do is get one run in,” Swisher said. “I was able to get a fastball over the middle of the plate and kind of get the barrel on it and you know Yankee Stadium if you go to right field, that definitely helps out a little bit.”
“There’s not a whole lot different,” manager Joe Girardi said of Swisher. “I thought Swisher hit into some bad luck on the road trip. They made some pitches on him too. He hit some balls on the road and really didn’t have a lot of luck.”
The luck or good fortune that Swisher was not having before that pivotal grand slam instead belonged to Ichiro, who capped a brilliant 9-for-12 series with a home run and an RBI double that began the most productive inning of the year.
“His hand-eye coordination is absolutely amazing with what he can do with some of the pitches he can foul off,” Girardi said. “It’s good [to see].”
It was a topic that Swisher was more interested in discussing than his big hit that came during the type of slump he has had in three postseasons for the Yankees.
“I’m so happy for him because he’s a guy that came over here to this team, to this organization, and he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Swisher said. “He’s done it with professionalism and he’s done it amazingly. To be able to see him having all the success that he’s having I couldn’t have been happier for him.”
The hit also was the Yankees’ 10th grand slam this season, but their first since Aug. 13 against Texas. Swisher had that grand slam and the Yankees had a five-game lead. Three days later the tailspin began, forcing September to be a series of playoff games for the Yankees, who have a one-game lead over the idle Orioles.
“It’s nice because I feel that we’re getting that inner confidence back that we lost there for a little bit,” Swisher said. “Regardless of what the situation is, whatever team we’re playing, we feel like we’re going to go out there and get the job done. Anytime you have that sort of mindset, whether you go out and win the game or not, it definitely gives that added advantage going into the game.”
Equaling their most productive inning of the year allowed Phil Hughes to pick up his team-best 16th victory. Hughes allowed a two-run home run to Moises Sierra in the fifth among four hits while pitching five adequate innings without much command.
“It was a nice night to get a lot of runs,” Hughes said. “I definitely needed it. It’s nice when guys step up and score a lot of runs.”
The big performance by Ichiro and the grand slam continued the trend of Hughes getting tremendous run support. The Yankees scored more than five runs for him for the 13th time.
“Real encouraged and we need to play good baseball because the other teams behind us are doing the same thing,” Girardi said. “So it’s a good thing. If you’re going to heat up, this is the time of year to do it.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.