Andrew Benintendi came to the Yankees as an All-Star hitter. The left fielder had his best season with the Royals, batting average and on-base percentage, scoring runs and scoring runs. That’s the kind of hitter the Yankees thought would be the perfect hit in front of or behind Aaron Judge.
So when the Bombers made a trade to bring in Benintendi, he made it clear he wasn’t changing. Although lefties have a nice short porch in right field to hit balls to, Benintendi said he won’t change his swing. Suddenly he wouldn’t try to knock everything into the right field.
But deep down, Benintendi saw this short porch. Just 318 feet, and well, Benintendi was a little tempted.
“Obviously when you come here, you think about that short right field. It’s hard not to think about it, and I think my mind was too far to the right, like almost dead right field as opposed to right center field,” Benintendi said. “Deep down. I thought about it. I shouldn’t have been. But right now I’m just trying to think about hitting down the middle of the field, almost left-center.”
And suddenly Benintendi looks more settled, more like the player the Yankees went out and traded to replace the struggling Joey Gallo and made their lineup more complete. The 28-year-old hit an RBI single in the seventh inning of the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Mets on Tuesday night. It was his second hit of the evening and his third consecutive multi-hit game.
In his first 13 games with the Yankees, Benintendi hit .175/.320/.275 with 11 strikeouts, nine RBIs and four doubles. Aaron Boone said he waited for Benintendi to settle in because the Yankees knew he was too good a hitter to stay in that funk.
“I wouldn’t necessarily use that as a reason why I didn’t perform the way I like,” Benintendi said. “I think it was one of those things you go through. It’s a shame it happened as soon as I got here, but it’s a tough game and you keep working and praying that things turn around. So I continue to work with the guys and hope to get some good shots.”
In his last four games, Benintendi is 7-for-14 with three runs scored, two doubles and a home run. That home run was a monster shot into the second deck in right field, the shot the Yankees needed to snap a three-game losing streak and start that three-game winning streak.
Hitting coach Dylan Lawson smiled when asked about the home run because it was something the Yankees were hoping to see a little bit. However, he understood the temptation and adaptability of Benintendi.
“We told him he was a good hitter in a lot of parks; Kauffman Stadium, Fenway Park and here,” Lawson said. “We told him the wall (in right field) is there and it’s going to happen if he’s the same hitter we went out and traded for, he doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s put in a lot of work, it wasn’t just settling in and hoping he gets back to normal, he’s been working hard every day and home run aside, I think you’re seeing the hitter we wanted.
“And you can see why we wanted him.”
Benintendi has indeed had a tumultuous month. He flew on a Royals charter to New York, planning to play a four-game series against the Yankees. A few hours later he was a Yankee.
Replacing Gallo, a target for Yankee fans, put Benintendi in the spotlight from the start. He was a solid defensive left fielder, but a slow start earned him some whiffs that Gallo left when he was dealt to the Dodgers. Benintendi, who spent his first five years in the big leagues in Boston, understood the expectations of playing in a place like the Bronx.
“I don’t want to use (the transfer) as an excuse,” Benintendi said. “I’ll just say I’m comfortable here, settled in and happy to be contributing.”
Now that he’s refocused his pitching, Yankees fans — and Yankees manager Aaron Boone — can’t wait to see him in the big spot.
“He hits the ball so well,” Boone said. “That’s what we love about him. It’s starting to happen. I’m enjoying this big situation where he’s coming up right now because he’s settling in.”