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03/08/12 5:10 PM EST
Stubbs looks to strike back at his critics
Changes hitting approach after 200-strikeout season
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
PHOENIX, Ariz. - Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs has heard all of the cries from the armchair batting coaches. The directive to bunt more from fans and various media talkers far and wide has filtered down his way. Stubbs doesn't discount the notion of bunting, but will readily point out that it's also easier said than done. Dropping a bunt on a 95 mph fastball with sharp movement isn't exactly child's play. "What people don't realize is a lot of teams make it a point to take that away from you," Stubbs said. "Guys that bunt a lot have corner infielders playing halfway in. It would take an absolutely perfect bunt every time to get on. And a perfect pitch. There are a lot of different factors and variables." While he can hit for power, Stubbs is one of the fastest runners in the game. When he bunted for hits last season, he was 4-for-6 (.667) and is batting .450 lifetime as a bunter. "Bunting doesn't by any means define my game," Stubbs said. "It's just an added weapon to my arsenal. When it's available and the situation presents itself, be able to capitalize. It gives me a chance to use my speed."
The calls for Stubbs to make changes to his hitting approach came from plenty of knowledgeable players and coaches, also. It was a natural response to the kind of disappointing season the 27-year-old endured. Stubbs batted .243 in 158 games with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs. He lost his place as the Reds' leadoff hitter midway through last season, and will likely bat sixth or seventh this season. And no number on the stat line jumped out more than his club-record 205 strikeouts. No one in baseball history not named Mark Reynolds had ever struck out 200 times (Reynolds has done it three times). Reds manager Dusty Baker has frequently defended Stubbs about that strikeout total. "They act like Stubbs is the first cat [to strikeout]," Baker said. "He had to break somebody's record to get there. Look at Bobby Bonds. There have been a bunch of strikeout guys. Drew Stubbs is not the first one." Stubbs may not have been first or the only one, but he was definitely alone with thoughts that wore him down and defeated him mentally. There was nothing left to do but return home to Austin, Texas, to decompress. "Obviously at the end of the year, you're left with a bitter taste in your mouth," Stubbs said. "Last year was probably the toughest year of my baseball career. I've been through struggles before. I kind of beat myself up mentally, which probably led to the stuff that happened. To be honest, a few days at home without having to think about playing baseball felt like a burden was lifted. I wiped the slate clean and looked forward to starting new." Since arriving to camp, Stubbs has tuned out most of the outside suggestions about his hitting approach. His trust is placed with hitting coach Brook Jacoby and Baker, who spoke with Stubbs at the end of last season about needing a different philosophy as a hitter. It involved being more aggressive. "His problem is most of the time he takes a pitch he should hit and then fouls off the next pitch and he's in a two-strike situation," Baker said. "If you can stop fouling off the pitches you should hit, you won't be in that two-strike situation." Baker is close friends with former player Ralph Garr, who is now a scout in Houston. Plenty of young Reds players, including Stubbs, have previously sought advice from Garr during trips to play the Astros. "They ask him what is his two-strike approach. He said he never let them get to two strikes," Baker said. "Everybody wants [Stubbs] to get deep in the count and work the pitcher. Well, that doesn't work for everybody. If you ask Stubbs to get deep in the count, you're asking Stubbs to strike out some more." The bottom line is that when Stubbs strikes out, he has no chance to use his speed to get on base. When he reached safely, good things often followed. He stole 40 bases, hit 22 doubles, walked 63 times and scored 92 runs - all career highs. Though it's early, the first four games of spring for Stubbs have been solid. He is 4-for-7 (.571) and yes, one of those hits was a bunt for a single. "Across the board, I just want to improve in all categories," Stubbs said. "At the end of the day if you haven't done that but contributed to the success of the team and helped the team win, that's all that matters."