FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - When Don Mattingly batted higher than .300 for six consecutive seasons from 1984-89 and enjoyed five 100-RBI years in that span, hitting didn't appear to be much of a mystery to him. But four straight sub-.300 efforts sent him searching for answers, a pursuit that caused new stances and new philosophies. Mattingly resolved this past winter to adopt one approach and stay with it. So far, the results are eye-popping. He slammed his third and fourth home runs of the exhibition season Wednesdau while lifting his batting average to a rousing .588 in powering the Yankees past Detroit 5-2 at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The early muscle is evoking memories of the mid-1980s, an exciting prospect for the 32-year-old first baseman. "There are a lot of things I'd like to do again, things I know I'm capable of," Mattingly said. "It's a matter of getting it to work." Everything is working now. He's banged out 10 hits in 17 at-bats with four home runs and eight RBI. He's produced multi-hit efforts in each of his last four games. He went 3 for 3 against the Tigers, ripping a solo home run to right center in the opening inning against Bill Gullickson, then nailing him again for a two-run shot inside the right-field foul pole in the fourth. He capped his big afternoon with a single to center off left-hander Bill Krueger before Kevin Maas replaced him as a pinch-runner in the sixth inning. "I really came into camp knowing what I wanted to do," Mattingly said. "At this point, this is telling me it's the right approach." The approach sounds far simpler than it is to implement. "In general, I'm trying to keep my body out of the way and let my hands do the work," he said. Added batting coach Rick Down, "He's cut down the length of his stride, trying to stay back and see the ball well." Mattingly draws some encouragement from last season. His .291 average and his 17 home runs represented his highest levels since 1989. He totaled 86 RBI despite being limited to 134 games by a pulled muscle in his left rib cage. In an effort to be more selective, he drew a career-high 61 walks. Yet the season left him dissatisfied because of his maddening inconsistency, particularly a late-season slump. "Early I didn't swing the bat that well. Late I didn't swing the bat well. I had a good period in the middle." He enjoyed a torrid stretch from June 23 until Aug. 20, knocking in 56 runs in 51 games. Yet he struggled mightily from Aug. 21 on, batting .228 the rest of the way. When the Yankees took their AL East duel with Toronto into September, Mattingly was not there for them. The team captain batted just .250 as the club fell out of the race in that crushing month. The Yankees are convinced his tailspin was due to tendinitis in his right wrist. "Who knows what he would have batted if he was 100 percent in September?" Down asked. Mattingly refused to point to that injury, however. "I'm not going to make any excuses for last year," he said. "Last year is there. It happened." He did acknowledge that he is benefitting greatly from minor surgery performed on his right wrist last November. "There's no doubt," he said. "It's enabled me to do some things again." Mattingly said his wrist had bothered him periodically for the last couple years, requiring cortisone injections from time to time. "I tried to stay away from surgery but it didn't work," he said. In a minor operation last Nov. 8, Dr. Charles Melone decompressed a tendon and removed a cyst from his right wrist. "That bionic piece they put in there is working," he joked.
PEDULLA, TOM, FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - When Don Mattingly ba., Gannett News Service, 03-16-1994.