Despite turnaround, Headley sees room to improve

Third baseman hopes to help Yankees climb up standings en route to postseason

Despite turnaround, Headley sees room to improve

NEW YORK -- The last time that Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner publicly brought up Chase Headley's name, it was on a Manhattan sidewalk, as he pointed to the struggling third baseman as one of the most prominent reasons his club was off to a slow start.

The last month has changed that, as Steinbrenner now tabs Headley in a positive light, one that has Steinbrenner encouraged about the Yankees' chances of being in the thick of the race by the end of July. Headley said he understood the criticism and appreciated hearing that vote of confidence from upstairs.

"You want the people in the organization to feel like you're doing your job, and I certainly wasn't for the first five, six weeks of the season," Headley said before the Yankees' 9-8 victory over the Rockies on Wednesday. "It's been better. I've still got some improving to do. I think I can probably hit a few more home runs and drive some runs in; that's something that's kind of bugged me all year."

Two innings later, Headley was rounding the bases after depositing his first grand slam as a Yankee into the netting that covers Monument Park. Headley had talked about needing to pick up some more cheap RBIs -- runners on third with less than two outs, that type of thing -- but there was nothing cheap about his blast off Colorado's Jon Gray.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Headley and hitting coach Alan Cockrell have been working on mechanical adjustments since the sluggish start, which saw the 32-year-old batting just .196 on the afternoon of May 18.

That was when Steinbrenner walked outside of Major League Baseball's Park Avenue offices with a purpose, singling out Headley, Mark Teixeira, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino for criticism. The Yankees were in Arizona at the time, and Headley was caught off guard, relayed Steinbrenner's comments from a reporter's cell phone.

"It's never fun to hear that in that sense, but it was fair," Headley said. "It was more than fair. I knew I wasn't playing well and producing the way that I needed to produce. You don't necessarily love to hear that, but you understand. That's just stating facts."

Headley's triple stands

Since that day, Headley has posted a .308/.371/.452 line in 30 games. He said that he is pleased to have battled out of the worst slump of his career, but he still sees room for improvement, particularly with runners in scoring position (9-for-47, .191). Headley said that he is driving the ball to the opposite field more, which he believes is a precursor of a power surge to come.

"I think the guys in the clubhouse helped a lot, just knowing that they're in your corner and they're pulling for you," Headley said. "Same goes with the front office and the coaching staff. Just being able to keep going out there when you're not playing well is not something to be overlooked. I knew. I've done this for long enough to know that I can hit in this league and that I'm not a .150 hitter."

Steinbrenner said that if the Yankees remain healthy, he believes they will have a chance to reach the postseason. If they decided to move assets, the Yankees might net significant returns for players like Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran or even Brett Gardner, and Headley said that it is up to the players to convince ownership to keep the band together.

"If we start playing better, that's not going to happen," Headley said. "I've been a part of it, [with the Padres]; I know what it feels like. [Selling at the Trade Deadline] is certainly not fun, and it's probably not something that happens in New York very often, if ever. Hopefully we can stabilize the ship and right it before we have to make those tough decisions.

"We know that we need to play better because we want to get in this race. We want to make the playoffs. It's not, 'Hey, if we don't win, then Chapman or Miller or Brett, whoever it is, is going to be out of here.' We want to win because we want to be in the playoffs, not to keep guys on your team. Let's get this going in the right direction so we can be playing meaningful games when it matters."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.