Cubs rookie Nelson Velazquez showing off ‘thump’ with extended stay in majors
Velazquez recorded six RBI in the Cubs’ back-to-back victories Friday and Saturday against the Phillies.
PHILADELPHIA — Soon after Cubs outfielder Nelson Velazquez’s call-up in late May, he brought an area of focus to his new hitting coaches.
‘‘I wanted to stay a little more to the middle of the field,’’ he told the Sun-Times this month. ‘‘Use that big part of the field.’’
Hitting coach Greg Brown was thrilled.
‘‘He had a mindset of, ‘I want to start building this now, so two [or] three years from now, this really is the foundation of where I’m at,’ ’’ Brown told the Sun-Times. ‘‘And that’s, to me, a great thing.’’
Despite his new focus, Velazquez hasn’t lost his power. He demonstrated that Friday against the Phillies with the first multihomer game of his young career.
Offseason additions such as right-hander Marcus Stroman, who held the Phillies to one run in six-plus innings in the Cubs’ 6-2, 10-inning victory Saturday, and outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who logged a career-high four hits Friday, were always going to have the opportunity to demonstrate the impact they could have on this club as it eventually moves out of its rebuilding phase.
The Cubs’ injury-riddled 37-57 record, however, has provided a chance for young talents such as Velazquez and Christopher Morel, who quickly established himself as an everyday player, to prove what they can do at the big-league level and develop under the watch of the major-league staff.
If the Cubs trade any outfielders before the deadline Aug. 2, Velazquez is in position to seize more playing time. With inconsistent at-bats, he entered play Saturday slashing .231/.275/.492.
For Velazquez, the key to sending the ball the other way lies in his lower body. He sometimes can drive too hard off his back foot, which opens his hips too early and makes him pull — or pull off — the ball.
‘‘Be a little bit easier with my lower body,’’ Velazquez said. ‘‘Feel more relaxed.’’
While his focus is on his legs, Velazquez has to be cognizant of his hands, too. Sometimes he’ll become too dominant with his front hand, and Brown will remind him to stay through the ball with both hands.
Velazquez had logged only 65 major-league at-bats entering play Saturday, but he had sent 41.5% of batted balls up the middle and 19.5% the opposite way, according to Statcast.
His second home run Friday, which made him one of two Cubs (with Thad Bosley in 1985) since at least 1901 to homer twice off the bench, was pure pull-side power with a position player on the mound in the ninth. But he crushed his first one to center as a pinch hitter in the eighth.
‘‘The thing that stood out in that [first] at-bat [Friday] was it didn’t look sharp to start,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘It looked like he was finding his timing. . . . His swings and timing got better really fast, which was encouraging.’’
Velazquez fouled off three outside pitches before, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Phillies lefty JoJo Romero gave him a fastball up and in. He kept his hands inside the pitch and drove it over the center-field fence.
‘‘[Pinch-hitting] is a hard task and is usually reserved for a lot of veteran guys,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But we’ve been using him more and more to come in and have some of those at-bats. He’s had some real thump.’’
On Saturday, Velazquez again entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth. This time, he showed patience by drawing a walk. Then he drove in a run in the Cubs’ five-run 10th.