NEW YORK — It’s about three hours before the New York Yankees are set to take on the rival Boston Red Sox when suddenly one of their many large-framed players appears in the confining visitors clubhouse.
For much of the half hour that reporters had been inside the room ahead of the series finale at Fenway Park, the 6-foot-6 Giancarlo Stanton had been in obscure parts of the building, out of sight.
Just as quickly as he breezes into the cramped quarters donning a sleeveless workout tee and baseball pants rolled up high to show his navy socks, he disappears. Before he vanishes he does pause briefly to grab a bat, a pair of batting gloves and a set of bulky, noise-canceling wireless headphones from his narrow locker. He walks out another door carrying them all in one hand.
It’s time for him to go back to work.
“I don’t want to call him an over-worker, but I guess I would call him that,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He’s someone that, he just works his tail off. He’s constantly down in the cage, constantly getting extra swings. It’s something that, if anybody is looking for something to say to him it’s, ‘Hey, kind of back off.’
“But it sounds like ‘back off’ is not in his personality.”
Since his arrival to the Yankees in December as part of a trade with the Miami Marlins, Stanton has earned a reputation for being one of the team’s most studious and tireless pregame and postgame hitters. The additional swings he has taken after games have been catching the attention of his teammates, and his work before games watching and rewatching subtle nuances within his mechanics has manager Aaron Boone noticing, too.
Much of that explains the Yankees’ patience with the slugger despite some of the struggles he has had this young season, particularly at home.
It’s also part of the reason why as the Yankees return Monday to the Bronx from a two-city road trip and welcome to town Stanton’s former employer, the Marlins, they are readying for the moment he goes on one of his red-hot hitting stretches.
They believe it’s only a matter of time when that happens.
“For a guy like Giancarlo, he’s going to have weeks where he gets a little out of whack and it doesn’t necessarily look pretty,” Boone said. “When he’s right with his timing, it’ll start to happen in a big way. And once that happens, he’ll get rolling and be a dominant player.”
Added Cashman: “That’s just his history.”
From the time he entered the league in 2011, Stanton has gone through multiple cycles of highs and lows at the plate.
Take for example May 2016, when he went through the worst month of his career. Through 22 games he batted .173, hitting just four homers, driving in only seven runs and striking out a blistering 35.2 percent of the time.
That July went dramatically differently. He hit .305 with seven home runs in 25 games, and he struck out just 27.6 percent of the time.
“Just watch film, settle down, make sure I’m not trying too hard and trying to do too much, which could subconsciously creep in, no matter what,” Stanton said of trying to snap out of slumps. “That’s the main thing. Just get a good pitch to hit and don’t worry about the outside noise.”
Not long after Stanton’s arrival to New York, his agent, Joel Wolfe, presented Cashman anecdotal evidence about how ugly the low moments might seem with his client. Wolfe wanted to apprise Cashman to the same thing National League scouts and executives had long noticed about the streaky slugger.
“When he’s in these patches, it’s pretty tough to watch,” Cashman said. “But like any pro he just battles through it and he does and then goes on a surge.
“So he’s mostly dominant, but he’s also human.”
Stanton has been a mere mortal in his first six games at Yankee Stadium this season, scuffling two weeks ago to a dreadful 3-for-28 (.107), 16-strikeout showing. His last at-bat of the homestand culminated in a four-pitch, game-ending strikeout in the 12th that brought out the boo birds. It was the second game in which the home fans booed him.
Angered by the loss, their frustrations were compounded by the fact that the big-bopping addition simply wasn’t hitting. Stanton hadn’t shown them in person many glimpses of what made him last year’s home run champion and National League MVP.
Cashman and others around the club understand those frustrations. They know the paying public wants assurances that whatever games they show up for, the slugger will put on a show and do as he did in his second game at Yankee Stadium when he launched a laser into the second deck in left field.
The reality is that pipe dream can’t happen every night.
Still, the homers might soon start coming in regular bunches.
“We won’t be having this conversation when he’s hitting 7-for-10 with six homers,” Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts said, “which is something he definitely can do.”
While in Boston last week, Stanton started showing signs of the superhuman version of himself. Back on track with his timing, he rapped hard singles, turned on a double down the line and placed a deep fly ball into just the right spot to earn his first triple of the season.
The day he briefly ducked into the Fenway Park clubhouse before taking off for pregame hitting, Stanton went 1-for-3 with a single and a run scored.
But an 0-for-5, two-strikeout showing in the opener of this past weekend’s rain-affected series at Detroit brought him back down to earth.
“Hitting’s hard, man,” Boone said. “And timing is a lot of it. Sometimes that can be a fine line between just a little bit off, and being in that good rhythm. And a lot of times, the rhythm of the season and the everyday of the season kind of takes care of that as you get going.”
Stanton’s starts are nothing to be proud of and can help explain why he’s gotten out of the gate so slowly this year. March and April are typically his most rough times of the year.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, his batting average is lower in those two months compared to how he hits the rest of the season (.252 vs. .271). His OPS is lower, as well (.835 vs. .928).
If it seems as if this March and April are so far uncharacteristically atrocious for Stanton, that’s because they are. His .220 average, .761 OPS and strikeout rate of 37.9 percent are the worst marks he has had in those months in his career.
“We’re going to look back on this in August and laugh about it,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said.
Judge might be onto something. Stanton has enjoyed enormous success in that month. The best month of Stanton’s career came last August when he batted .349 with 18 homers, 37 RBIs and a 1.332 OPS across 29 games. His career batting average, OPS and homer totals are also higher in that month than they are in any other.
Boone has been adamant in saying that the key to Stanton’s success lies within the synchronization of the toe tap that starts his swing. It has to be precise, the manager said. When that toe tap is on, baseballs fly.
“He understands once he locks it in that, shoot, he’s an MVP. He recognizes that. He sees the long game. He’s grinding away at it,” Boone said. “Nobody likes to struggle, but he also has a good perspective on it that he just needs to keep grinding away and working and eventually it’ll take off.”