NEW YORK — As he talked about finding his identity as a hitter, believing he has a better understanding of who he is and isn't at the plate, J.P. Crawford said: "I've finally realized the type of hitter I am. I'm not gonna go out and hit 20 home runs. I know that. And I'm trying to do that anymore."
Not 10 seconds after saying that, Crawford watched what seemed like a routine flyball off the bat of Jarred Kelenic during batting practice carry all the way into the right field stands of Yankee Stadium. He offered a knowing smirk, seeing verification of what he'd long heard about the short porch and easy home runs that can happen in the big ballpark in the Bronx.
"Well, I might hit 20 here," he said with a shake of the head. "Easy."
Despite playing more than 300 games over parts of five big league seasons — two with the Phillies and three with the Mariners — Crawford has never played a game at Yankee Stadium.
"The other years I was on the IL," he said. "I actually came here a couple of days before the draft (2013 when he was taken 16th overall by the Phillies) and just looking around. It was one of the first big league parks I've ever been to. I was like, wow. It really opened my eyes and to see a really iconic big stadium for the first time."
Even for a kid that grew up in Long Beach in baseball-crazed Southern California, he still understood the allure of playing in New York.
"It's always been a dream of mine to play here," he said.
Now he will play here for the first time in a key four-game series against the Yankees, a team they are battling for the second wild card.
"We had an interesting series with them last in Seattle and I'm excited to get going here," he said. "They are a good team and I'm excited to keep playing the way we are and not changing anything — just treat them like another team."
Coming out of the All-Star break, Crawford wasn't quite as productive as he was going into it. In his first nine games, he had five singles in 41 plate appearances with two walks and 10 strikeouts for a .128/.171/.128 slash line.
"You saw him have a couple of games where he started rolling over a lot of balls to the pull side — soft ground balls to second base and first base," Servais said. "It's just kind of a bat-path thing. He's worked all year long to kind of clean that up. He just got a whack for a little bit."
But unlike in past years, his simpler approach and swing allowed him to pull out of it quicker than in the past. Over his past nine games going into Thursday, he had a .325/.386/.375 slash line with 13 hits in 44 plate appearances, eight runs scored, two doubles, three RBI, three walks and eight strikeouts.
"The biggest thing for me this year is the mental side of it," he said. "I learned you're going to get out a lot throughout the course of a whole season. If you are 400 or 500 ABs, you're gonna get out 200 or 300 times and that's even having a great year. You just take that into perspective. You can't get down on yourself. You've just got to keep putting in the work every day, trusting in yourself that you're going to get out of it and you're just not pressing it."
Big series in Spokane
For Mariner fans living in eastern Washington, they will get the chance to see some of the organization's top prospects and a rehabbing big league pitcher over the weekend as the High-A Everett AquaSox are in the midst of a six-game road series vs. the Spokane Indians, which started on Tuesday and ends on Sunday.
Right-hander Emerson Hancock, the organization's No. 5 prospect per Baseball America, started on Wednesday night, pitching 3 2/3 innings and allowing one run on two hits with a walk and three strikeouts. It was his second appearance since returning from a monthlong absence on the injured list due to shoulder fatigue.
Right-hander George Kirby, the No. 4 prospect in the organization, will pitch Saturday night while left-hander Justus Sheffield will make his first rehab appearance since being placed on the injured list with a left forearm and an oblique strain just before the All-Star game.
"He's going to continue to build up volume and arm strength," Servais said. "He needs to get some innings under his belt."