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New Yankees Youkilis, Hafner and Wells pitching in and stepping up

04/09/2013 11:57 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Travis Hafner, like the other new Yankees, are fitting in well with their new surroundings.(AP)
Forced into the heart of the New York Yankees' batting order with the team decimated by injuries, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells aren't only contributing, they're exceeding expectations.

Youkilis and Hafner were signed to one-year deals as replacement players for Alex Rodriguez (hip surgery) and Raul Ibanez (free agent departure). Wells also became a necessity to not only compensate for Curtis Granderson's broken forearm, but to provide pop to a stripped-down one-through-nine.

The Yankees' 11-6 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Monday was a microcosm of how well the new three have performed. While Robinson Cano (3-for-4, two RBIs, four runs scored) was electric, the 3-4-5 trio of Youkilis, Hafner and Wells went a combined 6-for-12. On the season, the trio is a combined 27-for-71 with five home runs and 14 RBIs, and a major reason behind the Yankees scoring 18 runs on 26 hits over their last two games, after plating just 17 during a 1-4 start, entering Tuesday night's matchup with the Indians.

"Those guys (Hafner, Wells, Youkilis, etc.) have been great," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "They come over here, are asked to step up in a big area in the lineup where you talk about run producers. They've produced before, but they're actually asked to really step up in our lineup because of the injuries, and they're doing a tremendous job."

Youkilis spent the winter refining his swing and it's been paying dividends. He's opened the season with 10 hits in his first 27 at-bats and is 6-for-15 on the current road trip. Hafner, the man they call "Pronk," lit up Cleveland in his first game as a visiting player after spending 10 seasons with the Tribe, going 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs.

The homer, a three-run blast Hafner clubbed in his first at-bat, was also the 200th of his career at Progressive Field. Imported to the Bronx strictly to hit as a designated hitter, Pronk is delivering, batting .391 with two homers and a team-leading six RBIs through seven games.

 "I was working on a bunch of things mechanically (in Spring Training)," Hafner said. "And then basically scrapped everything and really tried to simplify my swing to the point where there's nothing going on. And I've had a lot of success with that. It feels really good and really simple. Hopefully I've found something that can be really good and consistent.

"My whole approach right now is to keep things as simple as possible. I wasn't really brought in to hit in the middle of the order, I was kind of expecting to hit down further. But it's a great opportunity for me, so I'm just trying to contribute the best I can to the team."

Shades of Ibanez last spring, Hafner struggled throughout the Grapefruit season, but his job was secure as long as he remained healthy. Whatever experiments he worked on with hitting coach Kevin Long has paid off, for tinkering is common with veterans who have an idea on what to do to prepare for the season, poor numbers or not.

"With veteran guys you don't make too much of spring training, because you can get fooled by it," Girardi said. "You figure that, for veterans, their track record is going to take over and I think that's what's happening here."

Wells, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in late March for a pair of Minor Leaguers and the Yankees picking up $13.9 million over the final two seasons of his contract, was one veteran whose been feeling it since Spring Training. Coming off two down seasons in SoCal, Wells batted .333 (15-for-45) with 11 runs, two doubles, four homers and 12 RBIs in 17 combined spring games with the Angels and Yankees. He hasn't slowed down in the early going of the regular season. On the road trip, Wells is 5-for-10 with a double, homer and two RBIs and hitting .381.

"You want to get off to a good start," Wells said. "As soon as  you step on the field, it's fun. I think it takes guys to bring it to another level. For me it's a matter of going out and having fun. I haven't had much fun the last couple of years. When you put this uniform on, the game changes."

And with the new three producing for the Yankees, their fortunes have immediately changed for the better.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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