Kris Bryant noticed Cubs teammate Javy Baez working on a slight adjustment to his hitting mechanics before the game Tuesday against the Phillies.
“I think he was focusing on trying to limit his leg kick a little bit, make it a little smaller,” Bryant said. “Then I saw that in the game. I was pretty impressed. He went from the cage right to the game. He looked awesome.”
Four hits later, the struggling Baez said he finally felt “really good” for the first time this season.
Just two days after talking in Boston about continuing to work daily on finding the kind of success he had late last season and into the postseason, Baez had his first career four-hit game.
“The difference was three of those hits were middle and opposite field,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what I like. I still want to see him accept a couple walks. I still want him to not expand the strike zone. That’s the next level.”
Combined with a home run and single in his final three at-bats Monday, Baez was on a 6-for-7 run — with 14 total bases — entering the game Wednesday against the Phillies.
The Cubs still aren’t sure what they have in Baez, 24, the slugging middle infielder drafted ninth overall in 2011.
“I don’t think it’s going to be revealed to us for another couple of years,” Maddon said of his ceiling. “I think it’s very high, absolutely.”
But the Cubs expect the performance swings at the plate — compounded by a tendency for big swings and misses — to persist until Baez becomes more willing to compromise on the coil and length of his signature swing.
“When he really figures it out, the reward’s going to show up,” Maddon said, “and it’s going to be outstanding to watch.”
Over the weekend, Baez said he was looking for that balance but didn’t plan to abandon the swing.
Maybe the reduced leg kick is the compromise.
“It’s really working for me,” he said of his pregame and early-game work and focus. “And I’m seeing the ball really good.”
Before those last seven at-bats, Baez was 12-for-60 this season (.200) with a .333 slugging percentage and .258 on-base percentage.
The batting average jumped 69 points during the surge, and his slugging and on-base percentages rose to .507 and .315.
Then he swung big in his first at-bat Wednesday and pushed a ball off the end of his bat to first for an easy out to end the inning with a runner at second. But still finished with a hit and that walk his manager was looking for. “His at-bats continue to get better,” Maddon said.
When Baez bats low in the order (ninth the last two games), assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske works with him on the swing behind the dugout tunnel in the first inning.
“Making your adjustments here in the big leagues is really tough,” said Baez, who added he’s used to slow starts but not usually this long into a season.
“The pitchers know what they’re doing, and they’re trying to get you out. And if they do their homework, it’s going to pay off [for them].”
But, he said, “I’m finally seeing the ball real good.”
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