On Saturday, Tampa Bay’s John Jaso went 3 for 5 in an 11-7 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The left-handed-hitting Rays DH – a former catcher – faced right-hander Joe Kelly in his first three plate appearances. Righty Justin Masterson and lefty Craig Breslow were on the mound in his subsequent at bats. Jaso — hitting .344/.414/.508 since returning from a long stint the DL — broke down his five plate appearances the following day.
“My big baseball philosophy changed when I heard something Pete Rose had said. Every at bat he took, he wanted to do the exact same thing. I kind of ran with that. I treat the late-inning clutch situation the same as I do a first-inning at bat. Take the other night when I hit the pinch-hit double to drive in two runs and put us ahead. I was just looking for a pitch to hit and trying to stay short and straight to the ball.”
FIRST AT BAT, VS JOE KELLY
“I was leading off the game and the first pitch I saw was basically a fastball down the middle. I pulled the trigger and whacked it for a base hit. When I came back to the dugout, I was talking to (bench coach) Tom Foley. I told him, ‘It’s so weird. Sometimes I’ll take a pitch in my first at bat’ –I’m seeing release-point and getting my timing – ‘and sometimes I’ll just swing.’ There’s no reason behind it when I just swing; it just happens on its own. Foley just shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, you saw a fastball down the middle.’ It’s just instinct and reaction.”
SECOND AT BAT, VS JOE KELLY
“My second time up, he threw me all off-speed. He threw me four changeups and a curveball. I try not to, but at times I’ll start thinking like a catcher. I was like, ‘After this many off-speed pitches, I would definitely come inside with a fastball here.’ I had that in the back of my mind and he threw me a changeup away that I took for strike three.
“That was funky. You’ve got a guy who throws 97-98 mph and he threw me five off-speed pitches and no fastballs. There were two out with nobody on, which made it even stranger.
“After the inning, I went back and looked, and the pitch was actually a ball. It was close to the plate, but it was wide. Because I was DHing, I had plenty of time to go in and take a look. I usually walk around a lot, because I don’t want to just sit there and end up stewing about my last at bat.
“Another reason I’ll look at my at bats in-game is to see if my vision is dialed in correctly. Sometimes a ball will feel like it’s a foot outside, but it’s hitting the corner. When that happens, I know something is happening. Maybe I’m pulling off the ball, or I’m not tracking the ball all the way in. If it looks that far off the plate but is actually right on the black, something is wrong with my eyes and I need to adjust. In this case, I didn’t. Proof is in the seeing, and I knew my eyes were right on when I looked and saw the pitch was a little wide. The umpire just leaned toward the pitcher.
“When Adam Dunn came over when I was in Oakland, he said something that caught my attention. We were having a pre-series meeting and our hitting coach was going over the opposing pitchers. Dunn walked in and asked, ‘Who’s catching?’ After he found out, he said, ‘That’s all I need to know.’ Then he left.
“The guy behind the plate is the the one calling the pitches. Last year, I was calling pitches differently than Derek Norris was calling pitches. Pitchers would tell me, ‘I like when you call pitches, because you do this,’ or they’d say ‘I like when Derek calls pitches, because he does this.’
“Ryan Hanigan is a heavy off-speed-calling catcher. That’s something you’re going to see a lot of when he’s behind the plate, and it’s a reason I saw nothing but off-speed from a guy who throws 97.”
THIRD AT BAT, VS JOE KELLY
“I jumped on a first-pitch fastball again. I hit it hard the other way, but kind of straight into the ground, and ended up with an infield single. Had the at bat continued, I probably would have seen more off-speed. He was probably going to throw that one fastball, then go back to changeups and curveballs.
“We were down (four runs), and no one was on base – I think there was one out — but I still went after that first fastball. The only time I’ll change my at bat is if we have a multi-run deficit and it’s the eighth or ninth inning. Then maybe I’ll take a pitch to make the pitcher earn getting me out, but only if there’s nobody on. If we have somebody on, I’m in swing mode.”
FOURTH AT BAT, VS JUSTIN MASTERSON
“He saturated me with sliders. He threw me two fastballs, and only one of them was in the strike zone. I fouled that one off. The other fastball was up, not planned to be in the strike zone. It ended up being a full count, so that means he threw me four sliders in the at bat.
“One of the sliders I took for a ball was down and in. It had a lot of movement. When I looked at it on video, I thought, ‘Dang.’ Hanigan caught it almost behind my back foot, but slowing down the video, it looked like it might have touched the black. If we ever go to an electronic strike zone, that pitch might be called a strike. That big Barry Zito curveball, the one that would bounce, could even be a strike. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, but an electronic strike zone would be interesting.
“I’ve faced Masterson plenty of times. His arm angle opens up pretty easily to left-handed hitters’ eyes. I also know his movement and plan of attack. With two strikes, he was probably going to try to backdoor a slider. That’s what he did, and the pitch kind of spun up there, wide for ball four.”
FIFTH AT BAT, VS CRAIG BRESLOW
“I didn’t know if I’d be hitting, because I usually don’t get to face lefties. With Joe Maddon, I wouldn’t have been. But looking down our bench, Kevin Cash was probably looking at them for other situations.
“I don’t think I’d ever faced Breslow before, unless maybe it was in spring training. When I face a lefty, I try to let the ball get as deep as possible. That way I can collect information about velocity, spin, and movement. When you recognize a cutter, it’s easy to just give up on it and let it do its thing. That’s a pitch I want to watch all the way, to see exactly what it’s doing.
“He threw me a first-pitch cutter that was a ball. Then he threw a second-pitch cutter that caught the plate. It was middle-away and I hit it for a single. I was a little out front, but my hands stayed back and I was able to flick it up the middle. It probably wasn’t the best 1-0 hack, but facing a lefty, I was satisfied. I got barrel on it.
“I wasn’t looking cutter. The only pitch that can really burn you is a fastball, so I try not to get burned by a fastball. Adjusting to off-speed is a lot easier. Basically, I imagine something coming at me as fast I can, and adjust backwards from there.”
“I heard a Bryce Harper interview where he was asked how he prepares for a pitcher he doesn’t know. The reporter said, “You must be very intense with your preparation.’ Harper said he doesn’t want to know anything about the pitcher. All he wants to do is what he does. He prepares his body to hit, then goes up there and looks for a fastball. He keeps it that simple. I try to do the same thing, and mostly just trust my instincts.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.