What Are the Biggest Challenges For Yankees Hitters When Getting Ready For MLB's Return?

Max Goodman

Timing is everything. 

Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames explained earlier this week that arguably the toughest part about the coronavirus-induced hiatus from a batter's standpoint is that players still can't find their timing. 

"Hitting is timing and I think guys have to get their timing back," Thames said in an interview with YES Network. "Pitchers are going to come in throwing pretty good, I know our guys have been throwing bullpens and playing catch. But just trying to get that timing back and get back going again. Hopefully two or three weeks into it we'll be ready to go."

While the best arms in the league can take reps off a mound, pitching as though they are in game situations, hitters across the league are forced to take swings off machines. 

For instance, while James Paxton has been able to throw simulated games, enlisting friends to stand in the batter's box, position players have in most cases been limited to swings in a cage or on-field batting practice. Facing live pitching, on the other hand, is a major step back to normalcy.

Not all hitters are able to road out of the gates and quickly hit their stride. In fact, there's only a select few across Major League Baseball – and on the Yankees – that are equipped with the skills to hit the ground running in a truncated season starting in July. 

READ: One Player From Each MLB Team Most Likely to Excel in 82-Game Season

With only a handful of players present at the Bombers' facility in Tampa – where Thames has been situated since MLB's ongoing hiatus began – another challenge has been finding a normality within daily workouts.

"It's different, it's weird not having all the guys here," Thames said, explaining players will take batting practice on George M. Steinbrenner Field and practice social distancing throughout the facility. "[Aaron] Boone is back home with his family. We play music, just try to keep it as loose as possible and try to stay positive. Guys are really hoping they'll get a chance to get back on the field."

When, or if, that chance eventually comes, it'll be down in Tampa. Multiple reports confirmed late this week that if a second Spring Training begins next month, the Yankees will reconvene at their spring facility rather than Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

READ: Hall of Famer Wade Boggs Says It's 'Impossible' for Players to Stay Game Ready Amid Coronavirus Shutdown 

Aaron Judge is one of the position players that's been frequenting the Yankees' complex in Florida. Thames said the slugger is beyond eager to get back to swinging a bat as he continues to nurse the fracture in his first right rib.

"It's been tough," Thames admitted. "He walks by the cage, he comes in to help the guys pick up balls, he really wants to get going, but we're just trying to stay safe. When the doctors let him turn it loose, he'll be ready to go. He's champing at the bit to get out there and start working hard on his swing."

Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman revealed the club never expected Judge's return to big league activity until "summertime" with an injury that dates back to last September. 

Others based in Tampa working out amid this delay include Luis Severino – who continues to rehab after Tommy John surgery – as well as DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and more.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is staying patient until MLB gives teams the green light to resume activity. Thames is making sure the players who workout at the club's facility are heeding safety protocols. For him individually, just being around the ballpark is enough to stay sane.

"So, it's been breaking up the monotony just being at home all the time. I get a chance to go in three days a week and we try to keep our distance outside when we're with the guys, but it's been good so far."

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees

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