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Of his relationship with Jeter, Cashman says, "I'm fine. I have a job to do and I'm doing it. I think we have a good relationship."
In questioning Jeter's skills and value, the Yankees helped turn him into an open target, a position of vulnerability almost never before experienced by him. Three days into spring training, for instance, there were already news reports about hitting ground balls in each of his first six plate appearances, only one of which went for a hit.
Even Jeter himself appeared to have concerns about his 2010 season. In a rare concession, and with the help of Long, he changed his natural hitting style. He junked his leg kick and stride for a no-stride style. The mechanical adjustment was designed to give him more time before the ball got on him. "I didn't play the way I wanted to," he says. "Yeah, it was an all-around bad year."
About three weeks into this season, however, Jeter declared the no-stride approach a failed experiment and returned to his usual style. Says Jeter, "It wasn't a change of swing. It was a change of stride—or eliminating it. And ... it didn't work.
"In theory I guess it was worth a try. I wasn't comfortable with it. It's tough for anybody, but especially for me, to try to hit thinking about too many things. When you hit you want everything to be second nature, and it wasn't. So I went back. And going back was an adjustment too."
At week's end Jeter was hitting .259 and spraying ground balls even more frequently than last year, when he led the majors in ground-ball percentage. (He's again the most ground-ball-heavy hitter in the game this season—65.9% of his balls in play.) His opposite-field punch has withered further (.333 on balls to rightfield, including no home runs). "People talk about his bat speed slowing down," Cashman says. "I don't know. I don't have anything to measure that. That could be the case. It might not. He's still an above-average player at his position."
Jeter will become only the second player to reach 3,000 hits while still playing shortstop, joining Honus Wagner (1914). When Long was asked what concessions a player of Jeter's age must make at the plate, he said, "Obviously, you have to be as short [to the ball] as you can. You've got to eliminate as many movements as you can. That's all part of it. Better strike-zone discipline. Got to be a little bit better at some of the finer things. Maybe pick a spot here and there to bunt. Take your walks, especially now more than ever.
"But his overall swing, I don't know that he's going to change there. We already tried to change his mechanics somewhat, and I don't think that's going to be a big part of the equation."
The combination of movement in the swing and advancing age would seem to conspire against Jeter. "There is some movement in his swing," Long says. "He's been able to hit like that for a long time. It's going to be harder [with age], there's no doubt about it, especially now that pitching is better than it's ever been."
Indeed, the return to prominence of pitching is yet another element complicating Jeter's days. The major league batting average (.252) and slugging average (.391) are the lowest they have been since 1992. Jeter is trying to revive his hitting as he ages in the toughest hitting environment of his career. Many other former All-Stars are struggling in the Great Runs Depression, including Ichiro Suzuki (.258), Jason Bay (.211), Chone Figgins (.189), Vernon Wells (.189), Dan Uggla (.183) and Adam Dunn (.180).