Changes paying off for Granderson
Outfielder has new approach to cut down on strikeouts
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Most of Curtis Granderson's Spring Training has been about not striking out. On Wednesday, Granderson struck.
His emphasis his two-strike approach has yielded him just one strikeout all spring, but he also entered the day with just one extra-base hit. He has focused on putting the ball in play rather than powering it. He multiplied that total against the Mets, falling just a triple shy of the cycle in a 4-for-4 performance.
It wouldn't have meant much in the record books since it was a Spring Training game, but it still meant something to Granderson, especially after not feeling right in batting practice.
"Basic stuff," Granderson said. "That's the whole thought process of making the swing simple. Because if we get off track like I was the last couple days, it's easier to correct."
Most of the corrections this spring have revolved around reducing Granderson's strikeouts after he led the American League in them last year. Considering his walk total, he already showed good judgment of the strike zone, so coaches focused on making his swing shorter and quicker to put the ball in play.
The approach has worked, but recently it worked almost too well. As Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and Triple-A Toledo hitting coach Leon Durham watched Granderson in batting practice Wednesday morning, they saw what he was feeling all week.
"I was trying to just feel everything and put everything in play," Granderson said. "Durham and McClendon said, 'You're not just going to be a Judy up there. You can still hit the ball and drive the baseball. That's your game. Don't get away from that.' So the approach was there. At the same time, we're trying to not just give up and put the ball in play."
In other words, Granderson explained, he needs to fight at the plate aggressively rather than passively.
Once he stepped to the plate against Mets starter John Maine, the aggressiveness was back. Maine left a one-strike fastball on the outer half of the plate, and Granderson was quick enough to not only make contact to the opposite field, but line it to left-center field with some authority. A breeze blowing out to left took care of the rest, giving Granderson his first home run of Spring Training since the Feb. 28 exhibition against Florida Southern.
Two innings later, he took a different approach, one that the Tigers haven't really emphasized this spring. He laid a bunt single down the third-base line that left no chance for Maine or third baseman David Wright to field in time.
The Tigers didn't call for the bunt. It was on his own once he noticed Wright was even with the bag.
"Just wanted to work on it," Granderson said. "I've got to still try it where he's at, because that's where they're going to play me all year. If I look there and give up there, then I'm in trouble. ... I have to continue to trust and believe, and the only way I'm going to know that is if I continue to do it."
It's something Granderson has grown to appreciate more. Granderson actually ranked in the AL's top 10 in bunts put in play last year with 16, but he'd like to raise that total significantly.
Manager Jim Leyland is realistic about doing it.
"I just think you use it as a weapon against a tough pitcher, drop one down for a base hit," Leyland said. "I think it's another weapon, but we're not a hit-and-run and a bunt team. That's not us."
Granderson followed with the hit-and-run, stealing second on Mets backup catcher Ramon Castro as Ivan Rodriguez swung and missed for the second out to put a runner in scoring position.
The two-strike approach, and his counter-response to it, didn't come into play until his fifth-inning at-bat, once sinkerballer Mike Pelfrey put Granderson in an 0-2 hole before he worked the count full. On a 3-2 delivery, Granderson had another opposite-field hit, lining a double to left-center.
He didn't try to guide or slap the ball. He hit it solidly.
"I fouled off a pitch and then I still hit a ball hard," Granderson said. "That at-bat, I think, was my best at-bat of the whole game, but not because of the results."
It would've been a better result had there been someone on base. In most scenarios without a runner on, he has to simply focus on getting on base, one reason behind the low total of extra-base hits until Wednesday.
It's a balance that would help him greatly to strike. For all the talk of his strikeouts, Granderson also had 255 total bases out of the leadoff spot, fifth-highest in the AL. His 58 extra-base hits ranked fourth.
Granderson's challenge is to preserve that while raising the contact.
"I feel good knowing that I can do it in the game right now," he said. "That's a good thing. And hopefully I'll just continue to be more and more comfortable -- not necessarily better, just comfortable. If I can get comfortable with it, then we can go ahead and do a lot of things with it."
He was aware of the potential cycle when he stepped to the plate in the seventh with Ramon Santiago on first with a bunt single. Hoping to put a ball in the right-field corner to give himself a chance, Granderson put it into right field. It was a single, but he had no shot to stretch it out. Nonetheless, he received a rousing ovation on his way off the field upon being lifted for a pinch-runner.
"I've got to save it," Granderson said with a smile. "I can't get it now. It doesn't mean anything."
Statistically, yes. For his game, it means plenty.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.