Sports

Yankees need this version of Gleyber Torres in pivotal second half

The Yankees got some much-needed spark — and production — from unexpected sources against the Red Sox.

From Greg Allen, who went 3-for-6, had three runs scored, a double, sacrifice fly, stolen base, and a walk after being called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Ryan LaMarre, who singled, walked and homered on Sunday after his return from SWB, their lineup — decimated by COVID and other injuries — came through.

But as Aaron Boone likes to say, for the Yankees to get to where they want to go — and that’s still the postseason — they need their stars to play like stars.

A good showing by Gerrit Cole was a positive sign — as was Jameson Taillon’s outing on Sunday — but just as crucial may have been Gleyber Torres’ last two games.

After not hitting a homer since June 5 — and with just three home runs all season — Torres went deep in consecutive games on Saturday and Sunday, consecutive at-bats, actually.

New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres #25 solo home run
Gleyber Torres has found his stroke recently.
Robert Sabo

Both were important, as Saturday’s followed Gary Sanchez’s homer that had just given the Yankees a one-run lead, and Sunday’s put the Yankees ahead in the second inning.

But Torres still needs to prove the burst of power, which for so long has simply disappeared from his game, is sustainable.

Boone has often pointed to improvement in Torres’ at-bats, but they have often come after close calls, like a fly out in the series opener against the Red Sox, when Torres went hitless in four at-bats and some other deep fly balls in Houston before the All-Star break.

When the Yankees traded for Torres nearly five years ago as the centerpiece of the package that came in exchange for sending Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, they weren’t expecting the player who hit 38 homers in 2019, or even the one who hit 24 home runs in 2018.

But that pleasant surprise has since been overshadowed by a dismal performance a year ago, when his OPS plummeted from .871 to .724.

And things have only gotten worse in 2021, as Torres has just a .658 OPS, even after he broke out of his slump over the weekend.

Scouts have been mystified by the drop-off and aren’t convinced Torres’ turnaround is complete.

“I can throw out last year because of how crazy it was, but he’s had times where he looked like he was going to be that ’19 version again and it hasn’t happened,’’ one AL scout said. “It just hasn’t stuck.”

Torres burst out after coming off the COVID IL in May, when he went 11-for-18 with a homer, a double and eight RBIs in his first five games. He got hot again in early June, with three extra-base hits in a six-game stretch.

But each brief flash was followed by a significantly longer dry spell.

Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec looks on as Yankees' Gleyber Torres rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the sixth inning.
Gleyber Torres
Bill Kostroun

Boone, Torres and hitting coach Marcus Thames have talked about Torres working on his lower half, and scouts have said his mechanics have looked better in recent weeks.

After his homer on Saturday, Torres said in the first half he “did too many things with my lower half at the plate. Now, I’m just being more consistent in my approach. Try and control the [strike] zone.”

That aspect of Torres’ game is cause for optimism, according to the scout, since he’s seen improved plate discipline of late from the shortstop.

After striking out multiple times in seven of 14 games during a stretch in June, Torres hasn’t had another multi-strikeout game in his last dozen games.

With key cogs Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela out with COVID, Luke Voit also sidelined indefinitely due to left knee inflammation, a Yankee team desperate to stay in playoff contention can’t afford another prolonged slump from Torres — especially with the streaky Giancarlo Stanton in a funk.

If the Yankees expect to be real postseason contenders, the version of Torres they saw over the weekend will have to stick around.

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