BRADENTON — Last season was a struggle at the plate for catcher Michael McKenry. Over 58 games with the Pirates in 2011, McKenry, nicknamed “The Fort”, hit .222 with 17 runs, 12 doubles, two homers and 11 RBI.
But this offseason, McKenry has been working hard to improve his game at the plate.
After spending time in Spring Training with the Colorado Rockies in 2011, McKenry was traded to the Boston Red Sox before the Pirates acquired him last June. McKenry admitted that spending the 2011 season with three different teams, and learning three different pitching staffs weighed on him.
“I feel way more relaxed [now],” McKenry said on day four of spring training. “Coming into camp and being with the team that hopefully you’re going to be with, instead of getting traded twice, trying to learn two different programs, then finally getting to a third and you stick. It was tough last year, just acclimating to everything. But it was a great learning experience. I just feel like I grew a lot.”
McKenry attributes those struggles to being more mental, then physical. He said the two things he wanted to improve upon this season was his hitting, and his mental aspect of the game.
“I spent a lot of time with [Mental conditioning coordinator] Bernie Holliday and just tried to learn the ins and outs of the mental game,” McKenry said. “I feel like I can really grow in that area –especially in the hitting side. Whenever I step into the box, to have that mentality, that I can compete with anybody, and just go out there and play hard.”
McKenry participated in the Fall Instuctional League over the offseason, and worked privately with Bucs Manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie on his approach at the plate.
“It was simple,” McKenry said. “It was very, very simple. [Hurdle’s] very, very smart. [Hitting coach] Gregg Ritchie, same thing. I talked to him quite a bit this offseason. I just kept it simple. The ability’s there. I work my tail off. They just say, ‘Hey. Keep it simple. Get the barrel of the bat to the ball, and just have a good time.’”
“The biggest thing that we talked about was just looking out and trying to get the lineup turned over, looking out and seeing the situation and just trying to attack that.”
Heading into the season, McKenry looks to be the favorite as the Pirates second catcher, backing up Rod Barajas. McKenry hasn’t worked with A.J. Burnett, who the Pirates traded for on Sunday, but he did, however, catch lefty Erik Bedard’s first bullpen session on Sunday. McKenry said he was impressed by Bedard, and that he reminded him of a former Bucco who played seven seasons in Pittsburgh.
“He reminds me a lot of Paul [Maholm],” McKenry said. “I think he’s going to be a good competitor for us. He really showed out his first bullpen that I caught. He was right in the zone almost every pitch, down in the zone. I think they’re going to be great additions. And everybody else that they’ve added this offseason, remarkable people, good characters, and I think that is what this clubhouse is about.”
With just four days into spring training, McKenry already has some goals set for this season. But don’t think he’s going to look too far ahead. He’s focused on things one day at a time.
“Just getting better. A little bit better everyday. Not take anything for granted. Hurdle was talking about ‘just a mile marker’. Slowly drive through and let one day happen, then the next day, then the next day. It’s a long process. We can’t think about playoffs, or being over .500. We just got to think about today. So today, I just want to get a little bit better.”