Most All-Stars weren’t born into baseball this way. Most of them had to alter their approach, or their mechanics, in order to find that a-ha moment. They threw a pitch differently, or decided to pull the ball more, or changed their swing, and then found a run of sustained success that put them in the All-Star game that’s being played tonight.
So, given fairly fettered access to the All-Stars from both leagues, that was the question I posed: what was the big adjustment, mechanical or approach-wise, that brought you to this podium today?
Danny Salazar, starting pitcher, Indians: “One of the biggest moments for me was when I started throwing the changeup more. That was right after I had surgery. Before I used to throw it less, and I threw it differently. Because every time I used to throw it, I was getting soreness in my elbow. I used to throw a circle change, but I changed the grip. I put my middle finger and my ring finger together and I try to make a circle with my fingers. Now, throwing it, I don’t feel any soreness.”
Edwin Encarnacion, slugger, Blue Jays: “My approach in hitting. I started working out with a new hitting coach in the Dominican, the same guy that works with [Robinson] Cano, Luis Mercedes. I’ve been working with him for four years. Swinging with my two hands and staying more inside the ball.”
Eduardo Nunez, shortstop, Twins: “You have to pull sometimes. Normally, I want to go to right field, but you have to make adjustments. I work with Robinson Cano, [Edwin] Encarnacion, [Albert] Pujols, [Marcell] Ozuna, Jean Segura, we practice together. I’ve been working them for the last four years. They always tell me, you need a chance to play and prove what you can do. It’s tough when you have one game every week, you maybe hit 1-for-2, 2-for-4, but then you don’t play the next 10 days, how are you going to keep your timing on time?”
Miguel Cabrera, first baseman, Tigers: “When you’re consistent, you’ll have good numbers. I try to be consistent every day, do my job every day on the field. I tried to focus on what I can do. I always try to hit to all the fields. This year, I changed a little bit, I tried to pull a few more balls, but it’s always a different idea that you have in order to try and stay consistent.”
Jackie Bradley Jr, outfielder, Red Sox: “I think just mindset, changing the mindset. Being more aggressive in the zone, making more contact, and when you make more contact, good things happen.”
Mookie Betts, outfielder, Red Sox: “More of a mental thing. You know guys are going to be around the zone, you gotta be ready to swing. That’s my mindset now. If you’re not up there ready to hit it’ll be 0-2 too fast and you’ll strike out. Aggressively patient.”
Mark Trumbo, slugger, Orioles: “Cleaning up some wasted movement is the biggest thing I can point to. It’s easier, though, when you’re not facing live pitching to work on some of those things. Once the arms come into play, everything is out the window. These guys are trying to sink the ball, they’re trying to get you to hit the ball on the ground. And with the shifts that are going on right now, it’s even less desirable than ever to hit the ball on the ground, and even in situations in the past where I might have had a little bit of a put-it-in-play approach, I’ve stuck to more of a power approach. With our lineup it doesn’t do any good to chop into a double play. Punching out is not ideal, either, but if you take a good aggressive swing and swing through it, you give the guy behind you a chance to do it.”
Daniel Murphy, second baseman, Nationals: “Just looking to do more damage. Not necessarily content with making contact. Doing more damage encompassed moving closer to the plate, and also hunting the pitches I could damage with, which was mostly pull gap power. More of a refined approach. Not all strikes are created equally. A slider away 2-0 is not the same as a fastball in. Any time you’re looking to pull the ball you’re naturally going to go out in front of your contact window as opposed to, if you’re looking to go to left field, you’ll catch it a little deeper. If you catch it too deep, you’ve missed your chance.”
Max Scherzer, starting pitcher, Nationals: “It was really when I found the curveball. I’ve made little mechanical adjustments, little tweaks here and there, but what really what separated me and allowed me to be the pitcher I am today was in 2012 when I was able to add the curveball. I went from trying to throw a back-door slider and slow it down and slow it down and then all of a sudden I threw a curveball, and that gave me another pitch to throw to a left-handed hitter, and it really opened my eyes to ‘Hey, I can add pitches, I can make myself a better pitcher.’ Then I started really grasping what it took to pitch at a high level in this league, and now I can watch games in a much better way because I’m better able to process what guys are trying to do with the baseball.”
|2008||72.5% (94.2)||17.0% (84.4)||10.5% (84.7)|
|2009||71.0% (93.6)||12.4% (85.0)||16.7% (84.3)|
|2010||65.0% (93.1)||15.2% (84.1)||19.8% (83.5)|
|2011||61.4% (93.1)||18.3% (82.7)||20.3% (82.5)|
|2012||60.8% (94.2)||19.5% (85.7)||19.7% (85.5)|
|2013||56.0% (93.3)||15.2% (85.1)||7.8% (77.9)||20.9% (84.7)|
|2014||55.1% (92.8)||13.6% (84.9)||10.3% (77.4)||21.0% (83.9)|
|2015||59.4% (94.2)||18.8% (86.2)||8.1% (79.6)||13.2% (84.9)|
|2016||54.5% (94.3)||21.0% (86.3)||8.4% (78.7)||14.0% (85.2)|
Julio Teheran, starting pitcher, Braves: “I think, last year, when I was really struggling, the big adjustment that I made was moving to the first-base side of the rubber. I was really struggling with left-handed hitters and they were doing a lot of damage. The change has worked. I’m making my slider and curveball better. I’m throwing the curveball up and my confidence is up. If you have a game where one of your pitches doesn’t work, you use another.”
Adam Duvall, outfielder, Reds: “You can’t compare the numbers between San Francisco and Cincinnati, because in San Francisco, I wasn’t getting at-bats. I was getting one at bat every day or every third day. Pinch-hitting is one of the toughest things in sports to do, if you see guys that can consistently do well off the bench, that’s pretty tough to do. I always thought that if I could get everyday at-bats, I could do what I was doing in the minor leagues. Defense in left field was a huge statement of mine that I wanted to make, I wanted to be a good left fielder, and so far I’ve done that. And I wanted to drive in runs, because that’s what I could do to help my team win. I may not hit .330, but I’m going to hit a lot of doubles and home runs. I definitely worked to drive the ball through the center of the outfield, and I think it’s helped with my approach.
Aledmys Diaz, shortstop, Cardinals: “I think if you look at the way I’m hitting right now, I changed the way that I hit. I added a leg kick, and that changed my approach at the plate and let me hit for power. It helped with my timing, I struggled with my first two months last year in the minors, so I added a leg kick and that changed everything.”
Brandon Belt, first base, Giants: “I look at a lot of my failures that I’ve had and I don’t think I’d be here now without those failures and learning from those failures. I had to make adjustments, and the hands were a big one, and overall gaining experience and learning my approach was huge for me. I can cover the most parts of the plate right now, and I feel like I’m putting the ball in play a lot more, and the more I put the ball in play the more good stuff can happen. I’ve had to work over the past five years to get to this moment where I feel I can cover the plate.”
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.