"Same as hitting second, man," he said about batting leadoff this season. "People pay too much attention to all that stuff, in my opinion.
"We haven't had problems scoring runs here, for years, really."
Well, that's Derek Jeter. The key to his remarkable consistency and ability to rise to the occasion lies with his almost stubborn refusal to change his approach whatever the inning, month, opponent -- or spot in the batting order.
But the reality is that the Yankees' decision to flip-flop Jeter and Johnny Damon has so far paid off, helping the Yankees lead the majors in scoring.
"I can't say what would have happened if we had done it the other way," manager Joe Girardi told FanHouse, "but it's worked out really well this year."
The idea came about, oddly enough, because of Jorge Posada's shoulder surgery last year and the WBC this year.
While Jeter was at the WBC during spring training, the Yankees had Posada lead off some games to get him more plate appearances and accelerate his preparation for the season. That meant Damon batted second, and hitting coach Kevin Long noticed that when Posada was on first, Damon was pulling hits through the hole on the right side created by the first baseman's having to hold on a runner.
|Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon are both having better seasons than a year ago:|
While Jeter had hit leadoff before, including the 2005 season, Damon had been a leadoff hitter since the middle of the 1999 season.
"Taking Johnny out of that comfort zone is something you don't really want to do," Long said Monday.
But the Yankees tried the new order over the final 10 days or so of spring training, giving Damon a chance to get used to it, and have stuck with it all season.
And, while it was intended to help Damon, Long said, "I think it's really helped Derek more than Johnny."
Jeter's on-base percentage is up more than 30 points, he is on pace for a career-low 79 strikeouts and he has already stolen more bases than in 2007 or 2008. While Jeter said he hasn't changed his approach at all, Long sees a difference.
" 'Jeet' is swinging at better pitches," Long said. "He's walking more."
Yes, despite Jeter's protestations, he is hitting like a leadoff man.
Jeter has in fact swung at 44 percent of pitches (a career low), made contact on 86 percent of his swings (a career high) and has swung at just 25 percent of first pitches (also a career low and way down from his career figure of 35 percent coming into the season).
There are other benefits:
• Fewer double plays, which means longer innings. Jeter last year grounded into 24 double plays. This year he can't do that in the first inning (unless the Yankees bat around). And Damon, who is faster and gets a head start out of the left-handed batter's box, has always been tough to double up.
• Bunching together the patient hitters, with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez behind Damon. "Johnny takes more first pitches than Derek does," Long said. "It just kind of gets us rolling. If Derek gets on, Johnny's going to have a five- or six-pitch at-bat, and then it's the heart of the order. A lot of times this year we've gotten the pitcher at 25 or 30 pitches after one inning." (Monday night, Baltimore's David Hernandez threw 35 pitches in the first.)
As for the original logic, ironically, Damon has come up with a runner on first base (an no other bases) 84 times this year -- and has batted just .189 in those spots.
Damon does appreciate the bit of a breather in the bottom of the first inning at home.
"It helped knowing that I wasn't going to rush in from the outfield, hurry up and run to the plate," Damon said. "So I can actually take my time a little bit more. I'm always somebody who's got to do something, so I never gave myself time to actually get ready. So now I actually have a time a little to relax before my at-bat.
"Unless Derek swings at the first pitch."