Lind finds comfort in a big league approach
Blue Jays' left fielder credits new regime with red-hot month
If Adam Lind had a bad day at the plate as a youngster in Muncie, Indiana, his mom Kathy would always have an answer.
"I'd hit the ball three times to the pitcher, and she'd say: 'Well, you hit the ball,' " says the Toronto Blue Jays' left fielder, sitting in the quiet of the wives' room in the basement of the Rogers Centre more than five hours before a Monday night game against Tampa.
Mom knew what she was talking about because her son kept swinging, and he's sure hitting the ball now — a .310 average overall and .390 for the month of July. That latter number is in the top-five in all of baseball.
Lind's slugging percentage for this month is .636 (49 total bases divided by 77 official at bats, including eight doubles, three triples and three home runs).
Can this be the same guy who was sent down to triple-A Syracuse on May 4 after striking out twice against Jose Contreras of the Chicago White Sox, dropping his early season hitting output to one hit in 19 at-bats?
Since manager Cito Gaston called him back from the Sky Chiefs as one of his first acts when taking over the club from John Gibbons on June 20, Lind has been on fire.
He has hit safely in 22 of 27 games — including 16 of his last 17 contests — and has had one four-hit game and three three-hit games.
So what's the difference?
"I don't know … it's a miracle, or something," Lind says, smiling a little as he sits in shorts, shower slippers and a Jays' t-shirt, chatting with CBCSports.ca.
That smile isn't shy, or overtly happy — more like comfortable, or "chilled out" as he puts it (being 25, and all) — with finally finding some success in the majors after three trips up and down in three seasons.
All that media talk about how Lind has changed this at the plate, or altered that, or tweaked this other thing is all very fine, he says, but really "not a lot has changed about me, it's just a certain pitch I'm looking for. I'm not trying to cover the whole plate."
A big league approach
Lind breaks down what's happened in simple terms:
"The thing is, a lot of people can teach you how to hit, but not a lot of people can teach you how to hit in the big leagues," he says, and here he's referring to Gaston and batting coach Gene Tenace, both veterans of the major league wars before they became coaches.
"It's completely different than hitting in triple-A or any other level for that matter. I don't really know a lot of coaches in the big leagues, but I think if you're going to really be a coach in the big leagues you have to have had experience as a player."
Put another way — and he's not trying to be a wiseguy — Cito and Gino have been there. Gary Denbo, the previous hitting coach who was fired along with Gibbons, hadn't. And Mickey Brantley, who taught him in 2007, had just 302 at-bats in the bigs.
Gaston (3,120 major league at bats) and Tenace (4,390) are in a different category and that's his point.
"There are coaches in the minor leagues who kind of think they know [about hitting in the big leagues], but they really don't," Lind says. "They think the game is perfect up here."
The new Jays' staff has a set way for working with Lind. Tenace is the day-to-day hitting guru, with coach Dwayne Murphy handling the defensive tips for the outfielder.
"And right before my first at bat [each game] it's Cito. [He'll tell me] what kind of pitcher it is, and usually by the time I get up Cito has seen a lot of the pitches because I'm in the bottom of the order.
"Like, he'll say this guy is all over the place so you can kind of look for whatever you want to look for, but you've got to wait for it."
Be patient, in other words.
Up to his recall, Lind says, he basically was using the same approach at the plate he'd had since college days at the University of South Alabama, or in the Cape Cod League, the outstanding summer loop that has sent hundreds of players to the majors: look away and react in.
That can turn everybody into a dead pull hitter in a hurry.
Needs hands-on approach
Lind won't speak poorly of the previous regime, calling his relationship with Denbo "not bad, not great," after seeing him for just three weeks in spring training,
As for Gibbons …
"I like Gibby, but we didn't really have a whole lot of communication, things like that," Lind said. "He would talk to me on the plane and stuff, but there wasn't a lot of day-to-day maintenance or whatever —how to approach things day-by-day in the big leagues.
"And last year I definitely needed something. I don't know what I needed, but whatever I was doing wasn't cutting it."
To the tune of a .238 average in 290 at bats with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 2007. And he failed to make the club out of spring training this season, only getting called up in late April as an injury replacement.
That lasted the aforementioned 19 at bats before he was shipped back to Syracuse.
"Last year [when sent down] I thought, 'Oh, I'll be back, I'll have another chance,' then I was up in April and [when sent back] I thought 'This might be my last hurrah,' at least with the Blue Jays.
"[I thought] 'Oh, I might get in the big leagues again, through a trade or whatever.'"
Around .300 sounds right
So, who is the real Adam Lind, the .236 hitter from last year or the .390 hitter from the last month?
"Oh, I don't think either one of them," he says. "I mean, .390 is nice in the meantime, but no one hits .390."
He thinks about it a moment: "I've been a career .300 hitter in the minors."
But you can tell he's trying not to sound bombastic about the whole thing.
"I think I can hover around [.300]. That's an easier question to answer now than it was three months ago."
What's on his mind right now is hanging on this wonderful moment for as long as possible.
"I was thinking … September's coming up, so there isn't much more time where I could sent back down."
And let's clear up a misconception here. At no point did Cito Gaston tell Lind he was the everyday left fielder and don't worry about it.
The manager hasn't said much of anything.
"Cito said 'You are going to play,' but he didn't say how much or how often," Lind says. "The only people who told that to me [the every day thing] was the media.
"I kind of figured it out, but he never actually told me."
When you're hitting .390, some things go without saying.