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New York Yankee notes: Johnson's power display no accident

The two home runs Nick Johnson hit in two at-bats Tuesday might be considered unexpected since Johnson hit just 8 in 457 at-bats last season.

Johnson, though, has apparently been working with hitting coach Kevin Long and the duo hopes to unleash more consistent power from the Yankees' fragile designated hitter.

As a lefthanded hitter he's always had a lot more Tony Gwynn in him than Ken Griffey Jr. He's not exactly a slap hitter, but Johnson has made a career of hitting the ball to all fields, always more comfortable going the other way than pulling the ball.

"My whole life's been left field," was the way he put it yesterday.

Not anymore. Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long is determined to unleash Johnson's power potential, and why not? At 6-2, 235 pounds, the guy isn't built like a 2-iron.

Long took one look at him on tape after the Yankees signed him as a free agent and saw an obvious flaw that was draining his power from his swing. Basically, he wasn't using his legs to drive the ball.

"When I watched him it was striking that his back foot was sliding out and collapsing," Long explained. "So that was the first thing we attacked, getting to use his lower half more efficiently and consistently."

At the recommendation of Larry Bowa, the former Yankee third base coach who is also Johnson's uncle, the club's new DH flew to Arizona in January to spend a couple of days working with Long, and the work continued into spring training.

The payoff came quickly, in Johnson's fifth and sixth at-bats of the spring, and the home runs were enough to make the Yankees salivate over what his new approach might produce this season.

"Certainly it's going to take him to another level," said Long. "We were expecting Nick to get on base and contribute in that area, but I think he can do a lot of damage.

"I know there's more power with his backside getting through, and he should hit for a higher average. It adds another power force in our lineup, another guy who can take the ball out of the ballpark at anytime - not by trying to, but just by working his swing the right way."

And no, Johnson did not hurt himself rounding the bases.

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