Can Hicks heat up? 'Staying patient' is key

Boone chats with Torres; confidence a big reason for Loaisiga's early success

April 23rd, 2021

One of Aaron Hicks’ strengths is his plate discipline, arguably the best on the Yankees’ roster. That quality has been lacking early in the 2021 season, which is why the outfielder huddled with hitting coach Marcus Thames earlier this week for an extended session in the Yankee Stadium batting cages.

“I need to swing at strikes. That’s essentially what it comes down to,” Hicks said. “I think I’ve expanded the zone a lot more than I have in a long time. If I’m swinging at pitches in the strike zone and I’m attacking the pitches I need to be attacking, then I know for sure that I’ll be back and doing a lot of damage at the plate.”

A glance at Statcast numbers indicates that Hicks is on to something. His chase percentage has jumped from 15.4 percent last year to 19.4 percent entering play on Thursday. Hicks’ contact rate on those pitches has been 41.7 percent -- well below his career mark of 57.9 percent.

That has contributed to Hicks’ slow start, in which he collected nine hits in his first 56 at-bats (a .161 average). Hicks was excellent at drawing walks last year, working 41 against 38 strikeouts, but he has worked only eight free passes against 15 strikeouts through 16 games in '21.

Hicks said that Thames is helping him back off the plate a little more and start his leg kick earlier, setting his sights on using the middle of the field instead of being pull-happy. Hicks said that he has felt solid from the right side of the plate and is aiming to find that same comfort from the left side.

“I wanted to start the season off strong and help my team win games,” Hicks said. “I haven’t been doing that. Staying patient is one of the issues that I’m having right now, because I want to get hits and I want to help this team win. I think, at the beginning, I started pressing a little bit.”

Closed-door chat
Gleyber Torres was summoned to manager Aaron Boone’s office at Progressive Field on Thursday, one day after the infielder failed to run out a check-swing grounder in the seventh inning of the Yanks’ 4-1 loss to the Braves.

“We spoke,” Boone said. “It’s between us in my office. I’ll kind of leave it at that. When we're not playing well, that understandably gets a lot of attention. But the one thing I would say about Gleyber is, his care factor is where it needs to be. He, like the rest of our guys, is grinding through a tough stretch. I look forward to him breaking out of it.”

Lo and behold
Jonathan Loaisiga has been a significant contributor to the success of the Yankees’ bullpen in the early going this year, compiling a 1.50 ERA through his first eight appearances, spanning 12 innings. The right-hander has permitted eight hits and one walk against 13 strikeouts.

“Confidence is key,” Loaisiga said through an interpreter. “The experience of being there, having the opportunity to talk to my teammates and listen to their pointers [has been helpful]. Above all, it’s staying aggressive, staying away from walks and trying to attack hitters as good as possible.”

Comeback trail
First baseman Luke Voit could rejoin the Yankees in about two weeks, according to Boone, who said that Voit is set to report to the club’s alternate training site in Moosic, Pa., early next week. Voit has been cleared to resume fielding drills and take batting practice as he recovers from left knee surgery, which he underwent in March.

“Luke brings a ton to the table,” Boone said. “He's been one of the elite hitters in this game the last few years, and he certainly is one of the voices in our clubhouse. We love having his energy, on top of what he brings to the batter's box.”

Boone said that left-hander Zack Britton (recovery from left elbow surgery) has increased his throwing to 120 feet as he targets a late May/early June return. Right-hander Luis Severino (recovery from Tommy John surgery) is continuing to progress at the club’s player development complex in Tampa, Fla.

Bombers bits
• Third baseman Gio Urshela (stiff lower back) received treatment throughout the day on Thursday and could be available off the bench, according to Boone, who said that the infielder is doing “quite a bit better” than he was during Wednesday’s game in New York. Boone said that Urshela could be in the lineup on Friday.

• The Yankees have not announced their starting pitcher for Sunday's series finale at Cleveland, but right-hander Deivi García is a candidate. García is with the team as a member of the Yanks’ taxi squad, and Boone said that the reports have been good from the club’s alternate training site.

This date in Yankees history
April 22, 1903: The Highlanders played their first game, a 3-1 loss at Washington. The club went on to finish with a 72-62 record, good for fourth place in the eight-team American League.