TAMPA — Off the crack of the bat, Yankees left fielder Clint Frazier spun and bolted toward the left-field fence. For a moment, his back was completely turned to the infield.
Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman had started the fifth inning on Friday afternoon with a slicing line drive screaming toward left-field wall. Frazier sprinted toward the track before turning, locating the ball in the air and making the grab with ease.
To the casual fan at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, it was a routine play for the Yankees left fielder. For Frazier, it meant more.
Three days before that play, No. 77 had a scary collision with the left-field wall at the same ballpark, crashing into the padded fence while attempting to rob a home run. He was slow to get up and while he stayed in the game, it was quite an anxiety-inducing play for New York considering Frazier's history of concussions.
In fact, as Frazier made the play at the warning track on Friday, ripples remained at the top of the Auto-Owners Insurance sign from where he crashed into the fence days before.
"Going forward, I'm hoping to avoid causing other people some anxiety because of a play like that," Frazier said this week in a Zoom call. "It's not going to prevent me from playing hard. I just have to continue to play smart and try to be a little more aware of my surroundings at all times."
It's been a long road for Frazier to being named the starting left fielder, especially on defense. That journey reached a milestone last season when Frazier earned a Gold Glove Award nomination. The 27-year-old recognized, however, that he still has plenty of work to do.
Following the collision earlier in the week, Frazier was spotted on the outfield grass at George M. Steinbrenner Field, shagging fly balls over and over from Yankees outfield instructor Reggie Willits.
Frazier assumed his position, quickly moved to where he thought the ball was headed and then slowed down to make the catch.
Asked exactly what he was working on in those drills, Frazier said that he texted Willits after the collision earlier in the week, telling him that he needs to get better and continue to practice those plays close to the fence.
"I played the majority of my games in right field last year," Frazier explained. "We came up with a plan and the biggest thing was to try to make sure that my read is really aggressive and making sure that when I get my read, I'm coming off the ball 100 percent rather than coasting at the ball.
"So, we were out there trying to work on that and be efficient with the move and ultimately by doing that, in a scenario where the ball is getting closer to the wall, if I get to the wall first, that way I can come off of it at my pace. So just trying to familiarize myself with something that him and I are working on right now."
Dangerous plays at the wall happen from time to time, regardless of how talented an outfielder is on defense. You could even argue that the better defenders in the outfield are the ones that are able to get to balls at the wall that others can't.
For Frazier, those plays won't always be avoidable, but he can limit the instances that could lead to injury by improving his reads and route efficiency.
"The biggest thing I have to do is make sure that when I get my read, I'm really aggressive at the beginning of it rather than kind of drifting and causing myself to not be able to look up and be aware of where I'm at," he said. "I want to play hard and I want to play smart at the same time. So it's a work in progress, to say the least."
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