Long list of reasons for Yankees success includes a guy named Long

BALTIMORE -- A scout who had just finished watching Travis Hafner drive in two more runs was trying to explain why the Yankees are getting so much out of players who were said two months ago to be so done.

He went through the things Hafner has done. He said he looks healthy enough that he doesn't need to cheat to get to a good fastball, and that the result is he's getting himself into better counts to hit.

Then he stopped.

"There's got to be something to Kevin Long," he said.

That would be Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.

We're all looking for explanations for the Yankees' early-season success with their makeshift lineup. It's impressive and surprising enough that no one explanation will do.

"They spend their money wisely," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

The Yankees took chances on players with success in their past, even if it was sometimes the distant past. They took chances on players who wouldn't be overwhelmed by the task of batting in the middle of the order for a first-place team.

"There's certainly times you rely on veteran guys," said Vernon Wells. "They're not going to be intimidated."

Wells has found himself batting third and fourth, spots he has been in a combined 1,114 times as a major leaguer. Hafner has spent much of the year batting cleanup, just as he often did with the Indians.

It's admittedly a small sample size, but Hafner has a .342 batting average in 38 at-bats with runners in scoring position. A day after he tied the game with a ninth-inning home run off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, he drove in the only two Yankee runs Tuesday with a pair of singles.

"He's a force in the middle of the lineup," Long said.

He's not the force he was at the best of times in Cleveland, when he could be one of the most feared hitters in the game. But the Yankees aren't paying him the $13 million the Indians spent on a diminished Hafner the last two seasons.

They signed him for $2 million guaranteed and another $4 million in bonuses -- a lot for a guy you're taking a chance on, but basically nothing for a veteran cleanup hitter on a high-budget team.

They turned him over to Long, and late in spring training Hafner and Long spent two long days in the cage, rebuilding and simplifying his swing.

"The past few years, I started to swing with my body," Hafner said. "We got to the point where I'm just using my hands. It's a very simple swing."

So is there something to Kevin Long?

"He really pays attention to our swings," Wells said. "The biggest thing is being able to communicate it."

There are still many who doubt the Yankees can succeed if they need to rely on these guys all season. There's no doubting they've succeeded before, and that they've gotten more production out of guys like Hafner, Wells and Lyle Overbay than most people in the game felt they had any right to expect.

So yes, maybe there is something to Kevin Long.

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