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Granderson eyes improvement after big '11

Granderson eyes improvement after big '11

Granderson eyes improvement after big '11
TAMPA, Fla. -- Believe it or not, Curtis Granderson still doesn't consider himself a home run hitter. He doesn't view himself as a middle-of-the-order bat, either. Not yet, at least.

Granderson finished second in the Majors in 2011 with 41 homers, led all players with 136 runs scored and drove in an American League-best 119 runs. But he is already talking about how he can top his MVP-caliber performance, whether he can hit 40 homers again and from which spot in the order he'll be attempting to do all of that.

"There's always room to improve across the board, no matter what. Could I do it again? The answer is, it is possible," Granderson said. "Could I do better? It is possible. Could I do worse? That's also possible, too. They're all options."

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With Derek Jeter likely to lead off and Robinson Cano a virtual lock in the three-hole, Granderson seems to once again fit in at No. 2 -- an unusual place for a guy coming off a 41-homer, 119-RBI season. But the Yankees' lineup is peculiar that way.

"We just ran out of spots," Granderson said, smiling. "There's too many guys."

Granderson certainly possesses enough power to bat in the middle of any lineup, as he's hit an average of 28 homers over the past five seasons. He isn't hurting for speed, either, swiping 25 bags in 2011 and more than 20 in three of the past five seasons. But who would Yankees manager Joe Girardi bump out of those spots? Cano? Alex Rodriguez? Mark Teixeira?

"I think it's a product of our lineup," Girardi said. "Curtis could hit anywhere between first and sixth, and he's going to fit just because I think he's made great strides as a hitter in the last year and a half."

Girardi added that there was a "possibility you could talk about" flipping Jeter and Granderson to put the 30-year-old center fielder atop the order, and he is not necessarily locked into having Cano immediately after Granderson. Girardi won't be married to just one consistent lineup, in fact.

"We started talking about it a little bit the other day, some different things, and I just kind of want to see how guys look as we enter Spring Training," Girardi said. "We'll try to iron out a lineup by Opening Day, but it may take until then for us to make up our minds."

Wherever Granderson lands in the lineup, he has simple goals for this season. But if he has specific numbers in mind, he's not sharing them. No, Granderson simply wants to score runs and drive them in.

Can Granderson do that from the second spot in the order? Well, he did last year, and given the talent still remaining throughout the Yankees' lineup, he thinks he can do it again.

"The thing that I've constantly tried to work on is realizing that I only bat in that spot once a game, and that's to begin the game. After that, the situations begin to dictate themselves," Granderson said. "Understanding that, I just go, 'OK, I don't have to go up there and take because I'm the leadoff guy. I don't have to go up there and hit a home run because I'm the three-guy.' If there's runners on base, I've got to get them in. If there's not, I've got to get on base."

It's a simple plan, but it paid huge dividends for Granderson last year, when everything seemed to come together for him at the plate. He had never hit left-handed pitching well entering 2011, but he actually put up some better numbers against lefties last year (.944 OPS, 16 homers) than he did against right-handers (.902 OPS, 25 homers). Girardi isn't viewing that success as an anomaly.

"I believe that he's going to hit lefties, too. I do," Girardi said. "When you looked at his hits, they weren't just lucky hits and jam shots and 19-hoppers through the infield. He hits with authority, and his approach was very good."

Maintaining that consistent approach will be a key for Granderson to consider himself a true middle-of-the-order hitter. He remembered back to playing in Little League, when he was told that the three-hole was reserved for the team's best all-around hitter, not just the one who hits the most home runs.

Granderson readily admits that he's not that hitter yet, and Girardi doesn't view him as the immovable piece in the club's lineup. If anyone in the Yankees' lineup has earned the title of being "the guy," Granderson said, it's Cano.

That doesn't mean the Yankees don't have high hopes for Granderson this season. Nor does it mean that Granderson has lowered his own expectations -- even if he still doesn't consider himself a home run hitter.

"My expectation for Curtis is that he'll have another good year," Girardi said. "I don't know what that means, home run-production wise, but basically we know there's power there. Whether he hits 20 or he hits 30, or whatever he hits, I just know that he's going to be productive."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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