If I’ve done the math right, David Lough is currently hitting .500. It’s a small sample size (20 for 40) against uneven spring training competition, but when I arrived I was told Lough had been hitting the ball hard all spring. (Although Friday’s hit was a pop-up that dropped in down the left-field line, and Lough appeared to stand too long at the plate, watching.)
So what’s going on? How does David account for his hot streak? As hitters tend to do, Lough has made some adjustments: he started standing more upright in his stance. As a result, balls down in the zone look farther away—they literally look less hittable. As a result, David’s laying off pitches he swung at in the past, waiting and getting something better to hit later in the at-bat. One theory of hitting holds that good hitters may not have superior hitting mechanics to poor hitters; good hitters just swing at better pitches.
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But hot streaks don’t last forever, and Lough is not going to hit .500 for the season. So what’s the plan when he finally cools down? First, David plans to ride this streak as long as he can; he doesn’t want to think too much, he just wants to keep doing what he’s doing. Then, when Lough eventually scuffles, he intends to stick with the same approach: start tinkering with hand position, the back elbow or any other part of a swing that has been so successful and you can quickly find yourself lost—unsure how to get back to the approach that was working.
David thinks he’s turned a corner, that this hot streak is not just luck, but an indication of a better approach than he’s had in the past. He says he’s never felt better at the plate and thinks he can keep things going in the right direction.
There’s a theory that many slumps start with hot streaks: hitters feel so good, they begin to chase borderline pitches, confident that they can hit anything. Pay attention to Lough’s pitch selection: if he starts chasing pitches off the plate, he’s going to cool down. If he keeps getting good pitches to hit, he has a better chance of staying hot.
The real deal
People down here will tell you to not get overly excited about early spring training numbers: pitchers are often experimenting or just getting work in, hitters are often facing minor league competition—but spring training is now reaching the stage where the numbers matter just a bit more.
The clubhouse is starting to clear out and teams are getting closer to their Opening Day rosters. Pitchers are now starting to show hitters the real deal: throwing the way they will during the regular season. Spring training numbers can still be misleading, but they’re getting closer to being the real deal.
(Even so, after James Shield had a bad outing Friday, Ned Yost said Shields was pitching the Angels differently than he will during the season. Shields said he just didn’t think he pitched very well.)
The backfields and Bogar
The Royals played a road game against the Angels on Friday, so I went searching the backfields of the Angels’ complex for Tim Bogar. Regular readers of this site will recognize the name: I met Tim when he was in Double A more than 20 years ago, and we’ve stayed friends since.
Last season, Bogar was the bench coach for Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox—that didn’t go so well—and Tim accepted a job managing the Double-A team in Little Rock, Ark. I found him and waited for his team to finish taking batting practice so we could talk.
Watching a minor-league workout is a totally different experience: a big-league manager has six coaches and the help of a major-league grounds crew and support staff. Minor-league managers have two coaches—a pitching coach and a hitting coach—and may find themselves picking up baseballs and moving the batting cage and protective screens. The team trainer often doubles as the equipment manager.
After each game, the manager has a pile of reports to fill out. He’s got to let people up the organizational chain know how things are going down on the farm. He’s also got to file reports on the opposition: if the organization is looking at a trade, they want to know what the other teams have in their system.
Anyway, Bogey is alive and well and invited me visit him in Little Rock this summer—sounds like it’s about time for a road trip.
Friday game notes
In Tempe Diablo Stadium, the center-field fence has a sign on it that says it's 420 feet away. Behind the center-field wall stands a batter’s eye—a large green wall that gives the guy at the plate a good background for seeing the ball—and that batter’s eye looks a couple stories tall. In the third inning, Jeff Francoeur hit the ball over the batter's eye.
Eric Hosmer also hit the ball over the center-field fence—and didn’t really look like he got all of it. Afterward he told me he barreled it up, but it didn’t have the perfect trajectory that Francoeur’s shot did.
In the same inning, Chris Getz got two hits, showing a good two-strike approach, taking the ball the other way. Also in the third, Salvador Perez also took the ball the other way with two strikes. And, once more in the third—a lot happened in that inning—Alcides Escobar singled past the third baseman, drawn in to protect against the bunt. Credit past bunt attempts for the third baseman’s positioning.
The Royals scored seven runs in the third inning and took the lead 8-7. When a team has a big inning offensively, pay attention to what happens in the next half inning. What you’re looking for is a “shutdown inning.” Can the pitcher take advantage of his team’s offensive output and put a zero on the scoreboard? James Shields did, thanks to Mike Moustakas. Mike made a tough catch of a pop fly in the sun down the line in left, then threw to Getz—standing right where he was supposed to be, covering second base—to double up the runner on first trying to advance after the catch down the line.
The Royals won 13-9. By the way, it takes a long time to score 22 runs.