Back in the Swing
When I arrived at the indoor batting cage earlier today, new Giants hitting coach Bam-Bam Meulens was feeding baseballs into a pitching machine, one after another, sending fastballs and curveballs hurtling toward John Bowker. Nate Schierholtz, one of Meulens’ other pupils, watched from a folding chair behind the plate, protected by netting that enclosed the space like a soft box.
“Good separation and balance,” Meulens said when Bowker crushed a pitch. “Nice.”
The two players were in shorts and T-shirts and drenched in sweat as they took turns at the plate. Bowker was working, at the moment, on letting the ball get deeper through the strike zone and hitting it to the opposite field. I knew they had arrived at 9 and assumed they had been hacking at balls most of the morning.
“Actually, we haven’t been in the cage all that long,” Schierholtz said.
Instead, it turns out, Meulens’ weeklong hitting clinic began this morning with one-on-one conversations with each player – Bowker and Schierholtz, plus Travis Ishikawa and minor-leaguer Brett Pill, who had already left by the time I arrived around 11:30.
Meulens is a big believer in understanding his players’ minds as well as their mechanics. He asked them how they felt their season went, where they thought they needed to improve, how they approach the game. He spent 45 minutes just with Ishikawa, trying to learn how he thinks and what he knows.
“All of that helps me to be a better teacher to them,” Meulens said later.
He wants to shift the attitude of players who blame their poor performance on not playing regularly. “The guy who writes out the lineup card doesn’t care if you need 300 at-bats to get comfortable,” he said. “Don’t complain about not playing enough. I want to eliminate that totally.”
And he wants to fine-tune their mental approach so they are prepared for every pitch in every at-bat. “That’s critical – you’ve got to have a plan to attack every pitcher. You have to know how he got you out before, or if you’ve had success, how he’s going to try to do different stuff.”
He’d like to see more of what the Giants did against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies on September 15. Giants batters were instructed not to swing until they had a strike. Jimenez needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning and had thrown close to 90 pitches before he was pulled in the third inning.
“When you take pitches early in the game, you get to see what pitches are working for (the opposing pitcher) and which ones aren’t. And you let the guys behind you see more pitches,” he said.
Schierholtz leaves Tuesday for winter ball in Puerto Rico. On Saturday, Meulens will fly down to Venezuela with Bowker and Pill and get them settled onto their winter teams there. He’ll stop in Puerto Rico on the way home to check in on Schierholtz.