Move up, move in, see ball, hit ball.
That simple approach seems to be working wonders of late for Colby Rasmus.
In Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays centre fielder hit his sixth home run of the season, capping off an encouraging two-week stretch in which he batted .333/.391/.714/1.106 with three home runs, raising his batting average from .203 to .234.
It’s a dramatic turnaround from the 0 for 17 skid Rasmus was riding entering play on May 18 — the first of back-to-back days in which Blue Jays manager John Farrell opted to leave the then-struggling 25-year-old out of the starting lineup.
Following a 14-5 Blue Jays win over the New York Mets on May 18, Farrell summoned Rasmus into his office for a post-game chat, later telling reporters he asked him to use the time out of the lineup as “a breather” and to get some work in the batting cage with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy.
What Farrell didn’t tell reporters at the time was that the two were working on changing Rasmus’ position within the batter’s box and simplifying his thought process once he steps inside it.
The Blue Jays saw Rasmus being attacked with backdoor breaking balls so they had him move closer to the plate and further up in the box. They believed the new position would give him an earlier, and therefore better, look at pitches, allowing him to attack offerings in the zone with greater conviction.
Or as Rasmus described it following Wednesday’s game: “I’m just getting on top of the plate and I’m trying to grip it and rip it.”
“I think with my approach now, it lets me not think about pitches that are called balls or strikes or whatever, worrying about what they’re throwing,” Rasmus elaborated. “I’m just getting up there trying to just wag at anything that looks good.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game against Baltimore Farrell said the adjustments were also designed to allow Rasmus to revert to what he feels most comfortable doing: pulling the ball.
“I think the last 10 days, he’s swung the bat with much more aggression and much more confidence,” said Farrell. “He’s been much more free and he’s been very clear with his whole approach. He’s gotten on top of the plate a little bit more and hit to his strengths which is a little bit more of a pull approach, and I think it’s closed down the area in which opposing pitchers are attacking him and he does a good job of laying off the ball in.”
Of course, swing changes are nothing new to Rasmus.
His struggles at the plate and with the coaching staff last year in St. Louis have been well-documented and the Blue Jays spent considerable time with him last year, this past off-season and during spring training to reduce his once-prominent leg kick.
Another new development has been the ease and comfort with which Rasmus talks about his swing mechanics.
After arriving from St. Louis in a July 27 trade last summer, Rasmus appeared somewhat shell-shocked and reluctant to talk about his swing — or anything else for that matter.
Fast forward several months however and a more comfortable and confident Rasmus has become one of the better quotes on the team, and not just because of his willingness to use terms such as "wag."
For example, take this detailed and thoughtful explanation Rasmus gave to a question on how his new position allows him to attack different styles of pitchers.
“It’s just to give myself a better chance on that ball that may be a little off the plate,” he said. “Make it more where it’s kind of middle-away and the pitch down the middle is kind of in and inside, just try to turn on," he continued, motioning his hands and body for greater effect.
"But just judging by what the pitcher’s throwing, if the pitcher’s throwing harder, I’ll back up a little bit. If they’re a softer throwing pitcher, 90, 91, I’ll scoot up in the box.”
A few minutes later, Rasmus displayed another aspect of his personality largely kept under wraps last summer – his dry sense of humour.
When a reporter stated, not asked, that Rasmus also appeared to be more upright with his feet closer together and less bend in his knees, following a brief pause Rasmus deadpanned, “Yes. Good assessment."
The light-hearted jab prompted a follow-up on whether this is as comfortable as Rasmus has felt as Blue Jay.
“Not really, I felt good early on this year,” he said. “I felt good. I’d say just as good as I feel now. Balls are (now) falling (in) for me, which makes it a little easier, but I think this whole year I’ve felt pretty consistent.”
The fact that Rasmus has responded to this latest change so positively likely has the Blue Jays feeling pretty good too.