Future with Yanks uncertain, Swisher's time is now
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YORK -- Nick Swisher had barely unzipped his equipment bags upon reporting to Spring Training, and already the Yankees outfielder was talking about how last year had been "super stressful" for him and vowing that 2012 just wasn't going to be that way.
It has been no secret that a good chunk of that stress comes from the postseason, in which Swisher has seemed to grip the bat a little bit too tight in the biggest moments. That's a generalization that Swisher has been eager to turn around.
"As I've said before, I think we've really been in a playoff-type atmosphere the last month," Swisher said. "And I really feel like I've done well. I'm done stressing about this, man. This could be my last hurrah here, man, so I'm just going to keep going out there and doing everything I have to do."
Swisher got off to a good start in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles, getting on base three times with two walks and a single while contributing a ninth-inning sacrifice fly as part of the Yankees' five-run rally.
But as the Yankees' offense went cold in Game 2 against Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen, Swisher did as well; he went hitless in four trips, including a flyout against personal nemesis Brian Matusz that left two men on in the seventh inning, dipping Swisher to 1-for-33 in the postseason with runners in scoring position.
"It was a tough game; just didn't end up on top," Swisher said with a shrug on Monday night in Baltimore. "Doesn't change our philosophy, doesn't change our mentality. We just have to go back to the Bronx, where we feel good, and win it there."
So that's where the Yankees will find themselves on Wednesday night, sprinting onto their home diamond under the bright lights. It's a scene Swisher has visualized hundreds of times, spurred by the bitter taste of hitting just .160 (16-for-100) in his previous playoff experience with the Yankees.
"Swish, just like anyone else, wants to be productive during the playoffs," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't think anyone in that room feels any different, so I think it's important, and I think it was on his mind some."
Beloved by Yankees fans for his enthusiasm, Swisher revealed this season that, at the urging of his wife, he sought assistance from a West Coast-based mental coach to help him calm down in the most critical moments of the year.
Swisher has a routine he goes through before each at-bat that includes rhythmic breathing and meditation, and though the ALDS thus far offers just a small sample size of nine plate appearances to judge, Swisher would point to the Yankees' hard-fought September as evidence that he can now relax when it counts most.
In New York's last 16 games of the regular season, with the Yankees battling for the AL East title and home-field advantage on the line, Swisher batted .407 (24-for-59) with four homers and 15 RBIs.
"I feel that this year's been a total grind," Swisher said. "We've dealt with so much adversity, so much stuff, and to be at this point right now, we feel really happy about where we are.
"I feel like there's a really good energy in here, we're just cruising along. And as for me, I've just got to go out there and be myself, and everything will take care of itself."
Swisher being himself has never been the problem, but as he pointed out with the unprompted "last hurrah" statement, there is a looming sense of finality to this postseason -- each "Swisher Salute" he offers to the right-field Bleacher Creatures could be one of his last.
"I've talked about that," Swisher said. "It's not like no one knows about it. It could be, man, so let's make the most of it."
After the final out of the season, Swisher will be able to test the waters of free agency for the first time, and a switch-hitting outfielder who can also capably play first base should be a commodity that draws attention from several clubs.
A contract in the ballpark of Jayson Werth's huge $126 million deal with the Nationals is probably a reach, but it doesn't hurt to ask -- more likely, Swisher will probably be able to score a three- or four-year commitment in the ballpark of $15 million per season.
Will that be too rich for the Yankees' blood, considering they're thinking about extensions for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, while also aiming to lower payroll below $189 million for 2014? Could be. That only serves to make Swisher embrace this postseason, knowing it could be now or never.
"People know the kind of player I am," Swisher said. "It's been kind of a [knock] on me, but I can't worry about that. I've got to go out there and play my game.
"I've matured a little more, as crazy as that is," he added, closing his thoughts with a loud cackle.