04/01/2011 12:20 PM ET
Teixeira bucks a trend with strong opener
Yanks need first baseman to avoid April doldrums
By Sam Borden / SNY.tv
Mark Teixeira homered in Thursday's season-opening win. He needed 12 games for his first homer in 2010. (AP)

NEW YORK -- The jokes came quick and easy, and even Mark Teixeira himself got involved. He knows as much as anyone how much he's struggled to hit in April during his career, and so his home run on Opening Day was seen by many in the Yankees clubhouse as a potential kick-start to something different.

"I've been petitioning the league to start in March for years now," Teixera said late Thursday afternoon. "Finally they let us start in March because everyone knows about my Aprils. It's great to start this way. I'm not going to lie. You don't want to start the season slow as a team or personally."

For most his Major League life, that's exactly what Teixeria has done. Yankees fans are all too familiar with his spring slog -- in 2010, Teixeira hit .136 in April, with just two home runs in 81 at-bats.

So far this year, he's 1-for-3 with half as many home runs already. And witty as it might be, Teixeira doesn't really believe it has anything to do with the fact that the Yankees snuck in a game in March before the calendar turned to the dreaded April.

It's about work, about trying a new routine. Teixeira wore holes in his batting gloves during Spring Training with all the extra swings he took, hoping that the extra drills would somehow slough the rust off faster than it has in seasons past.

"It seemed like every time I walked by the cage before the game or after the game, I could hear him hitting in there," said Joe Girardi.

There was talk all spring about whether the Yankees should make a change to their everyday lineup, possibly moving Teixeira down to the fifth spot and elevating Robinson Cano, who put up an MVP-worthy season last year and has developed into an incredible threat.

For now, at least, Girardi has opted to stick with his old lineup, which means Teixeira is back in the No. 3 hole, hitting in front of Alex Rodriguez and Cano. On Thursday, facing Tigers ace Justin Verlander, Teixeira ripped into an off-location fastball, rocketing the ball over the right-field fence for a three-run home run. On a day when the ball struggled to carry -- A-Rod had a seemingly sure-thing homer crash off the outfield wall -- Teixeira's blast was a no-doubter.

Teixeira, stoic as ever, rounded the bases in business-like fashion but after the game admitted that he's hopeful for what this start might mean as he tries to erase a disturbing trend.

"Last year awful, there's no other way to put it," he said. "It was embarrassing."

It was, particularly for a hitter making as much money as the Yankees are paying Teixeira. He is their first baseman (and for a long time to come, too) so there is nothing to be done; Teixeira is going to play. If he struggles in April again, the Yankees will live through it.

They'd just rather not. And Teixeira would obviously prefer to avoid the whole "what's wrong with you?" discussion for the one billionth time, too.

That's why he and hitting coach Kevin Long came up with their swing-till-you-drop 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 and in the weight room and defensively,'" Teixeira said. "And he said, 'OK, let's hit a little bit more this offseason. Let's hit a little bit more in Spring Training and cut back on some of the other things.'"

Teixeira shrugged. "Hopefully, it's going to work," he said.

The Yankees need it to, need Teixeira to be there for all six months. With so many questions about their pitching, the hitters should feel a heavier burden, particularly on days when CC Sabathia or Phil Hughes isn't pitching. Teixeira, obviously, is a big part of that.

Thursday was a good start. The Yankees -- and Teixeira -- can only hope it's the beginning of something even better.

Sam Borden is an award-winning columnist for The Journal News and LoHud.com, and is a contributor to SNY.tv. He can be reached at SamBordenSNY@gmail.com.
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