INDIANAPOLIS — He’ll get a pass this time.
Elias Diaz struggled offensively after being optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis July 7, getting away from what he does best.
He went 2-for-4 in his first game back, but then came the problems. Diaz hit just .133 (6-for-45) over his next 13 games.
His problem wasn’t an uncommon one, even though he’s had multiple brief promotions to the major leagues over the past few seasons, though his most recent stay with the Pirates lasted more than a month.
“Typical of some younger guys that come back from the big leagues, they want to continue to impress and try to do a little more,” Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. “They start doing things they weren’t doing before when they were going well.”
And for Diaz, his desire to do a little more started with his lower half. He was trying to add more power to his game, which gets away from his strength, which isn’t to be a home run hitter.
“It’s all in that back side and going down, and not coming up off his backside and that was what he was doing when he came back here,” Wynegar said. “For some reason, I think he started to try to hit the ball harder.”
When someone arrives in Indianapolis — whether it’s due to a trade, promotion from a lower level, or being optioned down by the Pirates — Wynegar tries to give that player some time to adjust, or get re-acclimated, to his surroundings before tinkering with mechanics.
Diaz’s time to adjust expired just prior to Indianapolis leaving on their recent week-long road trip to Columbus and Louisville. The solution was simple: less swing would equal more results.
“He quieted down his front side and is using his hands a little bit more,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said. “His swing was getting a little bit big and out of control. He can get like that, so we talked about him getting shorter, his front side being a little quieter and he’s made good changes.”
Diaz went 3-for-3 with three singles against Pawtucket on July 28 and is hitting .366 (11-for-30) in his last eight games, with three multi-hit efforts during that span.
“I was really struggling,” Diaz said. “My mind was thinking too much, getting sent down and continuing to play. I just tried to keep my head up every day and tried to learn, try to compete every night. I just tried to be relaxed and not easy, and it’s been much better.”
Diaz is a level-headed player that is easy for coaches to work with, so concern was never rampant about his struggles — due to it being a small sample size and his willingness to adjust. His swing just got out of whack for a few weeks,
“For whatever reason, we’ll excuse that,” Wynegar said.
On the other end of the spectrum
Eric Wood had one of his best hitting months as a professional in June, batting .323 with a .903 OPS. But things have gone downhill from there.
He’s now in one of the biggest slumps of his career. And the numbers aren’t pretty: He hit .191 in July; and .050 (2-for-40) in his last 12 games, with only a pair of singles during that span.
The good news: there’s nothing wrong with Wood physically, outside of the need for keeping mindful of small mechanical aspects of his swing.
His problems are coming from the mental side of hitting.
“It’s more Woody getting himself out right now,” Wynegar said. “Yeah, there’s some things in his swing mechanically he could shore up. We talk about those but I think the only thing going on with Woody is what went on with Moroff last year — not that he can’t hit, it’s just that he starts thinking.”
Wood is seeing a lot of sliders in counts where he is acclimated to seeing fastballs, and he would likely see a fastball in those situations if he were at the Double-A level.
“Woody found out real quick that Triple-A doesn’t work that way,” Wynegar said. “He was seeing a lot of sliders in hitter’s counts. He didn’t understand why a guy is throwing 96, but he still is throwing sliders. You have to understand they have a book on you and know what you hit good and what you don’t hit good.”
On Monday, Wynegar sat down with Wood in the dining room area of the clubhouse and the two talked about this season and the future. Wynegar brought up a player who is returning to Indianapolis on Tuesday — Max Moroff, who struggled last season before finding a nice groove this year and leading the International League in home runs before being promoted to Pittsburgh.
“I told him, ‘I promise you one thing — and I told Max Moroff this last year — any struggles that you feel you’ve had this year, doubts you’ve had, they’re only going to make you a stronger hitter next year,’” Wynegar said. “You just have to trust that. Let’s finish strong and keep working on what we’re working on approach hitter.”
Playing time will be stretched
Indianapolis will have no shortage of options when picking a lineup for its infield, rather not enough positions for all the available players — including some intriguing prospects that have recently been promoted.
Depending on how you break down the roster, Indianapolis will have nine players that see a lot of time in the infield when Moroff rejoins the team Tuesday. And there aren’t a lot of easy moves to be made to free up space.
Kevin Newman was recently promoted from Double-A Altoona and is the new everyday shortstop, while Edwin Espinal is a first baseman also recently promoted, though he will also get time as a designated hitter.
Moroff, Gift Ngoepe and Phil Gosselin are predominantly middle infielders that can also play third base. Wood is a corner infielder and Erich Weiss has played second, third, and first base. And then you have veteran Joey Terdoslavich, who has been pretty consistent for most of the season, at first base and designated hitter, though, he will also play in the outfield.
Christopher Bostick had been rotating between corner outfield spots and second and third base earlier this season, but will likely remain in the outfield during this current roster crunch.
“It’s not easy,” Barkett said. “We’re doing the best we can to make sure everybody gets at-bats and sufficient playing time for infield positions for development.”
A gentle giant
Wynegar has a photo from his rookie season that sits inside of his home, showing then-Oakland player Don Baylor colliding with him at home plate.
“I still have a picture of him at home with his shoulder buried into my chest and my mouth open,” Wynegar said. “I did hold onto the ball, though.”
Wynegar had a lengthy 13-year career with three teams, so he developed numerous relationships. But he fondly remembers former player and manager Don Baylor, who passed away over the weekend. The two played together with the New York Yankees from 1983 to 1985.
“I loved the man,” Wynegar said. “A good man. He was different than (Dave) Winfield, in that he wasn’t a vocal leader. I loved Winfield, but he was a little more boisterous and vocal. He would tell you how good he was. Don Baylor was very quiet and a gentle giant in the clubhouse, but someone who played the game the right way. I’m going to miss him.”
A small world
Buffalo manager Bobby Meacham didn’t get an at-bat in the first major league game he played. He can thank Wynegar for that as their two Triple-A teams meet in a series through Wednesday.
Meacham joined the Yankees in June of 1983 for a series against Baltimore, and was a late-game substitution in his debut. The game went into extra innings and his spot in the lineup was getting closer, but Wynegar hit a walk-off home run before Meacham could bat.
Wynegar didn’t remember the play, which was dug up by Ben Matos and Cheyne Reiter of the Indianapolis Indians’ media relations team.
After batting practice, Wynegar waited to greet Meacham to see if he remembered the play. Meacham joked with Wynegar that he did, but he was OK with that because he was so nervous about making his major league debut.