PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Luke Voit was thoroughly enjoying his visit to the hitters’ paradise that is London’s Olympic Stadium last June, chugging into second base with his fourth hit -- and third double -- of an afternoon contest against the Red Sox. During that 180-foot dash, he felt something snap in his lower half, but the Yankees slugger had no idea of the damage done that day.
Diagnosed with a sports hernia at the time, Voit rehabbed and was able to return to the Bombers’ lineup two weeks later, though his power was severely impacted. Included on the playoff rosters but idle against the Twins and Astros, Voit finally received the answers that he was seeking during an offseason consultation in Philadelphia with specialist Dr. William Meyers.
“He told me I tore everything down there,” said Voit, who underwent surgery to repair bilateral core injuries in October. “I was happy because of how bad the season ended for me last year. I was just like, ‘Wow, I didn't really know it was that bad.’ I tried to fight through it. I'm a competitor, I want to play. I'm feeling good and ready to get things rolling.”
That Voit double in the United Kingdom raised his split line to a robust .280/.393/.509 through 78 games, with 17 homers and 50 RBIs. After the injury, Voit batted just .228/.348/.368 in 40 games, hitting four homers and 12 RBIs, while missing most of August due to the same issue.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes that the procedure, which Voit said reattached three ligaments on each side of his groin, will permit the 29-year-old to recapture his first-half production.
“He looks great,” Boone said. “He had a good winter. Talking to him in December and January as his work was really ramping up, you knew how good he felt. Even though last year he was able to return and play, I think the way he's feeling now, it's like, ‘Oh yeah, now I'm where I need to be.' He’s in great shape and I think he's got a big year ahead.”
The Yankees are counting on Voit to handle most of the reps at first base. Mike Ford is competing to make the roster as a backup, and though Ford’s left-handed bat could be enticing for a team that is lacking options from that side of the plate, Boone said on Sunday that he believes second baseman DJ LeMahieu could slide over as a capable understudy for Voit.
Through the first weeks of camp, Voit said that he feels more functional and athletic, which he believes will help generate power at the plate and boost his defensive range. Voit said that he and his trainer focused more on agility and stability than power-lifting this offseason, reporting to camp about five to 10 pounds lighter.
“I can finally run again,” Voit said. “I'm not saying I'm going to steal 20 bases this year, but when I'm swinging, I’m staying in my lower-half now. Last year, I didn't have my legs. My legs are everything when I'm hitting, so I didn't have any power. I don't want to make excuses because I'm not that type of guy, but it definitely wasn’t there. I want to be there for my team, especially around playoff time.”
While Voit was recovering from surgery in December, he fielded a call from new ace Gerrit Cole, who wanted to ask what it would require to give up uniform No. 45. Voit has declined to reveal the terms of their transaction, but he said that it was a quick negotiation.
“I knew it was coming, and that's fine,” Voit said. “Forty-five was hanging in my locker when I showed up and got traded here, so it wasn't anything special for me. I knew he had been with 45 since he was in Pittsburgh, so I was happy to give it to him.”
The swap gave Voit the opportunity to switch to No. 59, which was his younger brother John’s uniform number during his time as a defensive tackle and captain for the Army Black Knights football team. Voit said that his brother is currently an Army Ranger stationed at Fort Drum near Watertown, N.Y., where he is preparing for a deployment overseas.
“I'm excited to keep it in the family and recognize him,” Voit said.