Expectations Rise for Harrison Bader: Can he save the Yankees season?

Harrison Bader of the Yankees hitting a home run against the Rays at Tropicana Field on May 7, 2023.

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Harrison Bader took months after his trade to return from injury and this caused many to raise eyebrows about his ability to help the Yankees. But once the sleek speedy outfielder was in the lineup, he immediately won over New York Yankees fans.

Whether it was the 2022 post-season or 2023 May, Harrison Bader stands out for his instant impact with glove, bat, and energy. His three-run homer against the Rays on Friday helped the team make a comeback though they ultimately lost. But his performance showcased how the Yankees put up a spirited fight. On Saturday, the Yankees had plans to rest Harrison Bader. However, the outfielder did not want to relax after missing the first month of the season. He came off the bench and had two hits, including a two-run single that helped the Yankees beat the Rays 3-2.

On Sunday, Harrison Bader continued his impressive run with a home run. In the extra-inning loss to the Rays, he went 3-for-5 with a triple, a two-run home run, and two additional runs scored. Bader’s homer gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the third inning.

Despite returning from an oblique injury, Bader has hit safely in four of his five games since making his season debut on May 2nd, accumulating two home runs and seven RBI in 11 plate appearances during the recent three-game series against Tampa Bay.

Harrison Bader is a true Yankee

The Bronxville native was raised within a short distance from New York’s historic Yankee Stadium, where Derek Jeter played. After years of waiting, Harrison Bader was given the opportunity to play for his local club.

However, he suffered an oblique strain in spring training, delaying his return to action. Yankees fans collectively groaned when they learned Harrison Bader would miss the opening couple of weeks of the season. When the Yankees were in the worst position possible and occupying last place in the AL East, he returned to the team. Harrison Bader homered twice in a May 6–7 series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Harrison Bader is celebrating during Yankees (3) vs. Rays (2) at Tropicana Field on May 6, 2023.

The New York Yankees’ chances of winning the series against the division-leading Rays weren’t looking good before it started. Fans of the Bronx Bombers were losing faith until Harrison Bader hit two home runs and drove in six runs in only five games.

In his team’s last 14 games of the season, he drove in nine runs. Harrison Bader was a crucial cog in the 2022 American League Championship Series matchup between the Yankees and the Cleveland Guardians. In six post-season games, he managed to hit four home runs.

Harrison Bader gives the Yankees their lost spark

Aaron Judge is out for the season with a minor injury, and Aaron Hicks might be the most hated person in New York City. This leaves the Yankees’ center looking empty. Now that Harrison Bader has returned and seems to be in good shape, manager Aaron Boone has more options than he had early in the season.

In the sixth inning of their game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees are behind by a score of 7-6. If the team can keep up with the winners of their division, they will have shown that they can still compete in the AL East.

Harrison Bader gets it from Mets’ Pete Alonso

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David Bowie

Before the start of the playoffs last year, Harrison Bader was not feeling comfortable with his bat. He had a poor batting average of .217 in his first 14 games with the Yankees. When he held his bat, it felt like he was gripping it too hard. He was unsure of what to do until he tried using a bat given to him by his friend Pete Alonso, the first baseman for the Mets.

The bat made by Grady Phelan of ProXR was based on biomechanics and it enables Harrison Bader’s great performance in the playoffs. He became the only Yankee with a good offense while most other big hitters had nothing going for them. Phelan’s bat also helped Harrison Bader improve his season record, which was much better in New York than it was when he was with the Cardinals.

This bat had a flared handle that looked more like an ax than a traditional knobbed bat, and when he took practice swings, Harrison Bader felt his swing was smoother than before. In Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Guardians, Harrison Bader used his own version of the bat, and he continued to use it for the rest of the playoffs. With the new bat, he hit four of his five postseason home runs.

“When I told him I was using his bat, he was like, ‘I told you,’” Bader said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, why do you think I use it?’”

Bader and Alonso had been teammates during their time at the University of Florida.

The Yankees acquired Harrison Bader from the Cardinals at last year’s trade deadline with the hopes that he would improve his offensive production. It seems to be paying off, as seen by his two-run single in Saturday night’s 3-2 victory against the Rays at Tropicana Field. His squad took the lead thanks to the run.

Harrison Bader said that it was really just kind of random, but it worked out.

Harrison Bader is focused

His modesty aside, Harrison Bader is very intentional in how he prepares for games. He places a great emphasis on visualization, taking time to envision his goals and how he will achieve them. In the outfield, he is meticulous in his approach, often taking circular routes to catch fly balls and gain momentum for his throws to the bases.

On Saturday afternoon, Harrison Bader’s bat had two important hits in it. Although he was not part of the starting lineup, he had played three consecutive games after being recalled from an incomplete rehab. Manager Aaron Boone wanted to rest him for a day but gave Harrison Bader the pinch-hitter role in the seventh when the Yankees were trailing 2-0. He then hit a single to right field.

Harrison Bader made a crucial contribution to the Yankees in the eighth inning. With one out and Anthony Rizzo on second base, DJ LeMahieu hit a double that brought Rizzo home. Following Calhoun’s pop-out, Bader hit a first-pitch slider from Kevin Kelly into shallow right field, driving in Gleyber Torres and LeMahieu for a one-run lead that the Yankees held on to for the rest of the game.

Harrison Bader of the New York Yankees is hitting against the Rays at Tropicana Field on May 6, 2023.
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He told the journalists, “It’s really satisfying,” after the victory. The championship belt for the team’s player of the game was proudly displayed in his locker.

“He definitely brings some intangible things about him,” Boone said. “Obviously, there’s a settling feeling about him being in the lineup and being in the middle of the diamond with as well as he plays out there — and the threat he is at the plate as well, the threat he is on the basepaths. But I think there is a joy that he plays the game with that I do feel like is a little bit infectious.”

Last year, when the Yankees exchanged Jordan Montgomery, their starting pitcher, for Harrison Bader, some people criticized the decision. Montgomery was a dependable back-end rotation player who had come up through the Yankees’ farm system. Meanwhile, Harrison Bader was on the injured list at the time with a left Achilles tendon injury, and he did not make his debut for the team until September 20th. Despite being known for his defensive abilities, Harrison Bader had only managed a career 97 OPS+ in his first five seasons in Major League Baseball.

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

“I switched bats at times when you’re going through something,” said Boone when asked about the bat saga. “You change a model or the length or the weight or something and all of a sudden it gets you going. There’s probably a little bit of a mental component to it or just changing something up or finding something that’s more comfortable but more equipped for you, and I think they’re probably able to measure that a little more now.”

According to Harrison Bader, he notices the most difference with the new bat when he is halfway through his swing, as his wrists don’t rotate as harshly, making it feel like a single fluid motion. He has been really comfortable with the new bat, as it puts his hand in a good position, making it more repeatable and direct to the baseball. The bat is passively working well and putting him in a good position to hit.

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