SEATTLE — There were times, Isiah Kiner-Falefa now admits, that he was ready to toss data into the nearest trash can. As the Yankees coaching staff constantly pushed him to overhaul his mental approach to the plate, in the absence of tangible results, it was tempting to return to the slapping-and-splashing style he used last season.
However, the coaches urged Kenner-Valeva to stay on track, promising that his internal measurements indicated he was hitting the ball harder than ever. Those readings are starting to translate into real-world success. Kiner-Falefa enjoyed a four-hit, four-RBI performance Tuesday night as the Yankees held on to a 10-2 win over the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.
“I feel like this is what I can do, and this is what I expected,” said Kenner Valeva. “I worked my butt off to make adjustments. There were times when I wanted to get away from that and get back to hitting ground balls up the middle, but they were pressing me and telling me to stick it out. It finally paid off.”
It was the third straight 10-inning pitch for the Bombers, who have hit a solid 33 hits in 50 hits during their current four-game winning streak.
“It’s no small feat to throw 10 more innings for that kind of staff,” said manager Aaron Boone. Credit to these guys; They focus, they work. They communicate well and are damned in their plans now. It shows itself.”
While the Yankees’ surge featured a heavy lift from Aaron Judge, who moved up to his 18th overall in the American League on Tuesday, they also benefited from improved Kiner-Falefa production.
When the 28-year-old pulled out of shortstop competition for the club this spring, a lot of attention was paid to his efforts to increase diversity. Tuesday was Kenner Valeva’s 24th start in the field this season, a position he had not played before.
An important change in the batting cages, however, was Kiner-Falefa returning a leg kick he had been using to help lead to extra base hits during his time in the Rangers’ Minor League system.
At the invitation of hitting coach Dillon Lawson, Kenner Valeva began using his added mass (about 15 pounds this winter) to aim to drive a line into the gaps instead of dribbling down the middle.
“When I was with Texas, I felt like when I was playing third base, I knew I had to do more offensively,” Keener Valeva said. “When I made the switch to Shortstop, I wanted to be a [high batting] The common guy who steals a lot of bases. Now that I’m moving, I feel like I’m back in a third base situation, where I need to drive the ball to stay in the field.”
Kiner-Falefa drove in the Yankees’ first two runs of the evening with his first single, part of the first three runs that provided starter Nestor Curtis and an instant cushion. He singled in the third round, struck out in the fifth, then singled in the seventh and ninth rounds—the last one, hitting twice to center field.
“He’s an amazing part of this team,” Curtis said. “He knows his role, accepts it all, and loves being here. Whatever task it may be, I think he will excel.”
Curtis sailed in five innings, leading Seattle to two runs and five strikeouts in 101 pitches.
“I thought it was very good,” Curtis said. “I was controlling both sides of the board, and getting a lot better at finding the top of the area more consistently.”
The visitors’ Anthony Volpi and Greg Allen hit to highlight a rookie seven home run off Logan Gilbert before Judge hit his third homer of the series and his 12th in 16 games. Judge stole the show in the series opener Monday, enjoying the 31st multiplayer game of his career before stealing a home run from Teoscar Hernandez.
In the seventh inning, Judge added to his growing history of Emerald City success, firing a solo shot into left-center field off Darren McCaughan. Judge hits 10 home runs in 15 career games at T-Mobile Park, hitting . 375 with 19 RBI since the start of the 2017 season.
“It’s a really good cast,” Boone said. “Coming here and swinging the bat the way we’ve had the first couple of nights, it’s really just kind of a carry-over from the way we’ve been swinging the last couple of weeks.”
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