Trey Mancini did some tinkering prior to the start of the season. Hoping to “limit a bit of pre-swing movement,” he decided to lower his leg kick. The Baltimore Orioles outfielder hit that way throughout the offseason, and he continued the experiment in spring training.
Then, about a week and a half before opening day, he returned to doing what feels natural.
“I am who I am,” Mancini told me last weekend. “The leg kick is just something that works for me — there’s a comfortability factor involved — so once I realized what I was trying didn’t feel totally right, I went back to my old one.”
Mancini felt that the lower kick disrupted his timing.
“It cause me to rush a little bit,” explained the Notre Dame product. “It’s always comfortable for me to hang there for a little bit — I see the ball better when I hang on my back leg — and without the leg kick my load was too quick and I was coming off the ball too fast. I thought that I would hang for the same amount of time if it was lower, but I always ended up being quicker than I wanted to be.”
As for his goal of limiting pre-swing movement, further consideration deemed it unnecessary.
“The most important thing is not moving your head once your foot goes down,” Mancini rationalized. “I don’t think mine does too much, so I should be fine.”
On the heels of a season that saw him finish third in AL Rookie-of-the-Year voting, Mancini is off to a .284/.352/.420 start to the current campaign.
Nick Plummer experienced some trial-and-error of his own, although in his case it was initiated by the St. Louis Cardinals player development staff. After coming back from a strained oblique last year, the 21-year-old outfield prospect was asked to make an adjustment.
“I used to have my hands a little bit higher, and now I rest my bat on my shoulder,” Plummer told me last summer. “It’s kind of like Andrew McCutchen, but maybe a little more horizontal. It’s really about helping me get more into my legs, about gaining ground and generating power with my lower half. I came in a hands hitter; I’d kind of throw my hands at the ball.”
The swing that made Plummer the 23rd-overall pick in the 2015 draft hadn’t been producing in pro ball. A power-sapping ailment was a contributing factor. The Detroit-area native missed all of 2016 with a wrist injury that required surgery, and as he pointed out, his stroke didn’t exactly optimize his long-ball potential.
The idea to rest his bat on his shoulder was accompanied by thoughts of comps.
“Two guys who really popped into mind were McCutchen and Francisco Lindor,” said Plummer — “kind of how they chill with the bat on their shoulders. Everything looks so simple and compact, like they’re working in that telephone booth. That’s what we call it. Your energy is stored, you’re seeing the ball, and you’re in that telephone booth.”
When I followed up with Plummer a few days ago, he told me via phone that the bat is no longer on his shoulder.
“It was a stage,” explained Plummer. “A stepping stone. It was to help me get a better feel for bat control, for maintaining that slot and and elongating my barrel. Once I kind of got that down I was free to get back to having my hands where I want them. As far as the power progression, now that I know my barrel is staying through the zone, I can let my hands be free.”
The Cincinnati Reds appointed Jim Riggleman interim manager when they fired Bryan Price earlier this week. Numerous names are being bandied about as the long-term replacement, with Barry Larkin — currently a special assistant to general manager Dick Williams — a popular choice among the fanbase. The 53-year-old Larkin, who has never managed professionally, has reportedly lobbied for the job in the past, which added a potentially deleterious element to his candidacy.
John Farrell, who joined the Reds in an advisory capacity last month, is also being touted as a strong candidate. The erstwhile Red Sox skipper does have managerial experience, but just like Price he’s a 55-year-old former pitching coach. In some respects, bringing him on board would be a continuation of the same.
Would the historically-conservative Reds be willing to go outside the organization and hire 40-year-old Carlos Beltran? The recently-retired native of Puerto Rico is viewed by many as a future manager and he’d bring a fresh perspective to a team that badly needs one. Staying a predictable course probably isn’t what the Reds need right now.
Quiz Time: Russell Martin leads all active catchers with 100 stolen bases. Which active catcher has the second-most steals?
Boston’s 17-3 record puts them slightly behind pace to match Detroit’s 35-5 start in 1984. The Tigers were 18-2 on April 29 of that year.
The Burlington Bees, Anaheim’s low-A affiliate, beat the Quad City River Bandits (Houston) 28-7 on Friday afternoon. Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, the top outfield prospects in the Angels system, combined for 15 RBIs. Each hit a grand slam.
Two-plus weeks into the season, the Buffalo Bisons have played just seven games. Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate has had 10 games postponed because of inclement weather.
Austin Dean, a 24-year-old outfielder in the Miami Marlins system, leads the minors with a .521 batting average. The former fourth-round pick has 25 hits in 48 at bats with Double-A Jacksonville.
When Mookie Betts went deep three times on Tuesday, he did so for the third time in his career. The only other players in MLB history with three three-home-run games by age 25 are Ralph Kiner and Boog Powell.
Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Victor Arano has retired the first 25 batters he faced this season after finishing last year with a streak of seven straight. That’s tantamount to a 10-inning perfect game plus two outs.
SABR has announced that they have withdrawn a proposal that would formally change the organization’s name from “Society for American Baseball Research“ to “Society for the Advancement of Baseball Research.” Procedural issues prompted the decision. SABR’s board of directors “continues to endorse consideration of a change,” and the issue will be revisited.
The answer to the quiz is Yadier Molina, with 57 career stolen bases.
Speaking of Molina, it’s now been two weeks since the Cardinals catcher had to be restrained by umpire Tim Timmons while going after Torey Lovullo. Poorly-chosen words by the Diamondbacks manager prompted the incident, which led to both parties being suspended for one game by MLB.
Lovullo was contrite after the game, and rightly so. His verbiage clearly crossed a line — Molina had reason to take umbrage — and Lovullo was man enough to admit it. Rather than try to defend what he said, he did the right thing by expressing regret.
To my knowledge, Molina hasn’t done the same. He should. While his anger was understandable, it is nonetheless inappropriate for a player to shove an umpire in an attempt to physically confront an opposing manager. (Timmons’s claim that the contact was incidental is questionable at best.)
As for the suspension that came from said contact, MLB clearly had no choice. Had they let it slide, they’d have been setting a precedent where making contact with an umpire can go unpunished. It’s hard to imagine the umpires’ union wanting that to happen. Frankly, the fact that Molina wasn’t ejected from the game is a bit perplexing. Lovullo wasn’t the only party out of line.
Javier Baez is raking. Over his last nine games, the Chicago Cubs second baseman is 15 for 39, with six home runs. He’s also fanned just seven times, which is meaningful given his career 28.7% strikeout rate.
How good can the streaky 25-year-old be when he’s disciplined at the plate? According to his manager, Baez evokes memories of one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time.
“When (hitters) go badly, they’re often chasing,” Joe Maddon said during spring training. “I’ve often talked about Javy. When he stops chasing the slider in the dirt he becomes Manny Ramirez.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Following a recent game in which Tampa Bay infielder Daniel Robertson pitched an inning in a blowout, I asked Rays manager Kevin Cash if there’s value in having a Chris Gimenez on the roster — a position player capable of providing mop-up innings in more than once-in-a-blue-moon fashion.
“In theory, we’re fresher in the bullpen today than if we used someone else,” answered Cash. “At times, a position player picking you up helps. We’re getting closer to having guys who can do both at a high level and be highly effective. We’re not quite there yet, though.”
Cash was presumably referring to Shohei Ohtani and Rays prospect Brendon McKay when he said “highly effective.” That wouldn’t define Gimenez — the backup catcher made six pitching appearances and gave up four runs in five innings for the Twins last year. But as Cash said, innings from a position player can help keep a bullpen fresh. Rather than carrying an eighth reliever who will only be used in low-leverage situations, why not have a utility player who can double as a mop-up man?
Tomoya Mori is slashing .383/.464/.517 in 69 plate appearances for the Seibu Lions.
Kensuke Kondo is slashing .375/.506/.500 in 81 plate appearances for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Kosuke Fukudome is slashing .316/.418/.49 in 67 plate appearances for the Hanshin Tigers.
Koji Uehara has allowed six earned runs in five innings for the Yomiuri Giants.
Tanner Scheppers has allowed six earned runs in eight innings for the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Dillon Gee has allowed 12 earned runs in 27 innings for the Chunichi Dragons.
“There’s a simplicity and a believability in the way he states things that resonates well with players,” Green said of Stairs. “He has a presence. He played 19 years in the big leagues as an on-base/power guy, and we value both of those commodities.”
As of Saturday, the the youthful Padres ranked fifth in the NL in home runs (last season they were dead last) and they were 13th in OBP.
In April 1990, when Tewksbury was with the Cardinals, he learned that he was going to be optioned to Triple-A the following day. Brett Hull happened to be at the game with a few of his St. Louis Blues teammates, and after it was over he came into the clubhouse. Tewksbury ended up quaffing cold beverages with Hull until 2 a.m., and at one point donned catching gear while the NHL legend did his best impression of a pitcher. One errant throw broke an illuminated Budweiser sign that hung in the home clubhouse.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Washington Post, Dave Sheinin wrote about how covering Shohei Ohtani is a full-time job, and more, for the Japanese press.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Cincinnati Reds have 998 wins (and 1,147 losses) versus the St Louis Cardinals since 1900.
Hanson Horsey made his only big-league appearance on April 27, 1912. Pitching for the Reds against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Horsey allowed 10 runs in four innings. He was then was (figuratively) put out to pasture.
On this date in 2007, the Red Sox hit four consecutive home runs against Yankees left-hander Chase Wright in the third inning of a 7-6 win. Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek did the honors.
Per the inimitable Jayson Stark, the Red Sox are the second team to start 1the season 17-2 after losing their first game. The first was the 1884 Providence Grays, for whom Old Hoss Radbourn had 10 of the 17.
In a three-year stretch from 1971-1973, Chicago White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood averaged 23.3 wins, 357-and-two-thirds innings, and 7.4 WAR. His ERA was 2.64.
Donn Clendenon, who played for the Pirates, Mets, Cardinals, and Expos from 1961-1972 — he was the MVP of the 1969 World Series — was mentored by Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morehouse College prior to entering pro ball.
MLB umpires are hosting an online charity auction that includes a wide array of autographed sports memorabilia. It runs from April 20-30, and information can be found here.
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.