That was an interesting discussion we just had down in the dugout at Fenway Park with Mariners manager Eric Wedge. It was towards the tail end of his session with the media and concerned Jack Cust and some of his recent struggles.
Cust is in tonight’s lineup and a reader earlier today asked me what the coaching staff has seen from the DH that might indicate why he is struggling so much. I mentioned that the staff sees the ground balls he keeps hitting to the pull side as one indicator his timing is off. So, I asked Wedge: what else is there that’s been noticed?
“I felt like that last at-bat (in Detroit),” Wedge said, refering to a Cust double in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, “that swing, the way the ball came off the bat the way it stayed true to left field, that’s what he’s looking for. That’s the feel. He’s a guy that’s capable of driving the ball to all fields. He’s going to put up a good at-bat. His strikeouts are up here a little bit just because of his struggles. But I think that comes along with the territory. As he does find it, he’s going to make better contact. He’s going to be better with two strikes as well.”
So, is it just a matter of being over-anxious? No. According to Wedge, that’s only half the problem.
“I think it’s just in-between. I think it’s a combination of sometimes being a little too over-anxious, and other times being a little bit too patient. I think that’s part of the issue.”
That’s interesting. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard it about a particular hitter on this team. Ryan Langerhans told me recently that all of the walks he’d drawn this season, while struggling with a .189 batting average, were not helping his cause. There were occasions, he’d told me, where he could have been driving balls for hits but wound up missing them and later settled for walks.
We’ve all marvelled at how well the M’s have done drawing walks this season. They are up among the best in baseball as a team. But they are also a team that, until they reached Detroit, could not come up with a timely hit to save their life. Now, we’ve all learned since Little League that a walk is as good as a hit. Thing is, though, it isn’t. A well-driven double, or home run — as we saw in Detroit — can mean a whole lot more to a team than a walk.
Sounds like Wedge would gladly trade some of that walk rate for some more big hits. So, I asked him about it and whether it’s something he’s had to have the team watch out for as the coaching staff demands more plate selectivity while wanting players to stay aggressive.
“It’s an aggressive mindset,” he said. “Which allows you to have a disciplined, yet aggressive approach when you get your pitch or you don’t get your pitch. It sounds like you’re working both ways and really, you are. And ultimately, you want to be up there ready to hit. And when you get your pitch, don’t miss it. I think we’ve missed a few. But I think that in the end, we’ll have the best of both worlds. We’ll be able to be more aggressive when it’s time to be when you get the pitch, and then, hey, if they’re not giving it to you, we’ll be able to get on via the walk.”
Wedge is pleased with the high walk rate, saying it’s part of a disciplined approach at the plate. But he wants that other part to happen, too. And until it does, we could still see the M’s putting a ton of guys on base without driving them in.
“It takes time,” he said. “Everybody has to understand that. It takes time to get to that.”
I asked whether he’s seen a tangible improvement since he took over the club.
“We’re making strides,” he replied.
Fenway Park, by the way, is where Wedge hit his first big league home run, off Shawn Barton of the Mariners on Aug. 21, 1992. Hit in right over the Green Monster in left with two out in the ninth-inning of a game started and won by M’s ace Randy Johnson.
“It’s not there anymore, but it was into the net,” said Wedge, adding that he never got the ball. “I didn’t have too many thrills as a player, but obviously that was one of them. No doubt about it.”
Wedge was the DH that day. Just like Cust is tonight.
3B Chone Figgins
LF Milton Bradley
C Miguel Olivo
1B Justin Smoak
DH Jack Cust
2B Adam Kennedy
CF Michael Saunders
SS Brendan Ryan
LHP Jason Vargas
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Kevin Youkillis
DH David Ortiz
SS Jed Lowrie
RF Mike Cameron
C Jason Varitek
LF Darnell McDonald
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka