Can't hit a lick, you say? Not concerning Crawford

February 23, 2012, 12:44 am
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Crawford spent less than 10nights at home in the Bay Area this offseason. He was such a vagabond, he got marriedin Hawaii and had the honeymoon in Jamaica.

That was her idea, Crawford said.But Crawford carries a smart phone in his pocket. So hecouldnt island-hop away from all those preconceived notions about him.
If you summarized every article sizing up the Giants as theyenter the spring, it would include some version of the following: Youngshortstop Crawford is a talented glove man. Pity he cant hit worth a lick.Well, yeah, I see the articles, Crawford said. I mean,Im on Twitter. But if I let it affect me, Id be screwed.The Giants do not believe they will be screwed at such acritical position. Although they seldom hand jobs to players with such a shorttrack record, Crawford is not trying to win a place this spring. Manager BruceBochy reiterated that the 25-year-old needs no audition to claim an everydayrole in the next six weeks.We plan on putting him out there on Opening Day, Bochy toldme. Spring training, for the most part, is the time to prepare for the season.It does play a role in some decisions and it doesnt mean you dont change, butwe plan on Brandon being our shortstop.Crawford memorably launched a grand slam for his first bigleague hit May 27 at Milwaukee. Thus ended the fireworks show. He finished witha .204 average, a .288 on-base percentage and a .296 slugging percentage whileplaying in 66 games (53 starts). His offensive struggles led to his demotion atthe end of July (although a blindfolded Crawford might have hit better thanover-the-hill Orlando Cabrera, the new acquisition that replaced him).Still, Crawford at no point appeared overmatched at theplate. He never struck out three times in a game. He only had four games inwhich he struck out twice. And when he made a subtle change in his mechanics inSeptember, raising his hands a little higher, he started to find a more directpath to hit the fastball.I hit a lot this offseason, so I think my swing is ready togo, Crawford said. I took those changes into the (Arizona) Fall League, soIm just just following up on that and making sure it still feels good.As for the chatter that his bat doesnt matter?It makes me work harder, he said, without hesitation. Idont really look into it a whole lot. Just approach every at-bat the same waywhether theyre writing good things or bad things.Bochy said there have been many times he worried about oneof his players paying too much attention to negative press. But he doesntconcern himself with Crawford.You know, not with Brandon, Bochy said. I think he showedhis mental toughness last year in how he dealt with everything and didnt letit affect him. I love his attitude. He wants to take advantage of this. Heknows its a great opportunity. Brandon has a great way about him. Having aneven-keel attitude through all this will benefit him.Steve Decker, now the Giants organizational hittingcoordinator, saw Crawfords steady attitude while managing him at several stopsin the minor leagues. Decker also knows Crawfords swing better than anyone. Hehosted the Pleasanton Foothill High alumnus at his home near Salem, Ore., afterthe 2010 season for an intensive hitting clinic.Hes one of the coolest, calmest cats Ive been around,Decker said. If anybody can handle it emotionally, its Brandon.But can he handle major league pitching?You know, thats really jumping the gun for people to sayhe cant hit, Decker said. He had some really good numbers in A-ball and thenhad some injuries. Hes still learning.I can simplify everything for you, Decker continued. Whenhe becomes a really good fastball hitter, hell make a lot of money. If hemisses the fastball, hell be a defensive hitter and hell have to hit thepitchers location and the pitchers selection, and the numbers wont be asconsistent. Really, thats it.Heres what its about: control your stride length, get thebarrel to the ball and strike zone awareness. Does he stay in his zone? Does hehit his pitch when he gets it? Its as simple as that. But as far asoverhauling his mechanics? No way. Doesnt need it. This is a guy who works hisbutt off and is a quality person that you pull for. Hes a quality Giant andyou want him to be successful because he can really help this organization withhis defense.No, the Giants dont expect Crawford to contend for theSilver Slugger award. They understand that they rushed his development, jumpinghim from A-ball out of necessity last season. Now they are hoping to protecthim as much as possible, which means hitting him in the No. 8 spot and shieldinghim from tougher left-handed pitchers. Veteran infielder Ryan Theriot, aright-handed hitter, was brought on board for that reason, primarily.An eight hole hitter is about strike zone awareness, nothow good of a hitter you are, Decker said. If you can get on base via bunt,walk or single and have a .340 on-base percentage as a No. 8 guy, youre helpingthe team. Youre turning the lineup over and getting the pitcher up to bat. Howmuch does that have to do with swing mechanics? No, it has to do with vision andcontrolling the strike zone. Its about having a solid plan as a hitter. Itsnot just going up there to freelance and try to hit the pitch in every zone. Thatstrue of any young hitters development and Brandon is no different.Crawford said his biggest problem last season was theat-bats I threw away by swinging at borderline pitches and rolling it over. Iwas putting the ball in play but it was a weak or routine ground ball. Maybe Icould have waited for a better pitch and drove it a little better.The stats back him up. Crawford had a .228 average on ballsin play. The overall NL average was .296.Thats a fairly extreme gulf. Luck can explain a bit of it,too.Yeah, there were some lineouts in there, he said.Crawford didnt stay grounded over the winter. After theFall League and his nuptials to Jalynne Dantzscher, a formerUCLA gymnast, and then a whole lot of time at 30,000 feet between Kona and OchoRios, the Giants asked Crawford to attend the leagues rookie development campin Virginia. He went anyway, without protest.They tell you what to expect in the bigleagues, Crawford said. Id already been there 94 days.Its easy to forget, but during none of those94 days did Crawford get to take the field with Buster Posey, his pal from the2008 draft class. Crawford was still rehabbing a broken finger at Single-A SanJose at Bakersfield on May 25, when Posey got blasted in a home-platecollision. Mike Fontenot injured his groin in the same game.I thought I would be going to Triple-AFresno, Crawford said.He went to the big leagues instead. Crawfordsgrand slam came two days after Poseys injury, and might have been theadrenaline needle to the heart that helped the Giants hold it together for afew more months.The last time I played with him was in theFall League two years ago, Crawford said. So Im looking forward to this.Its going to be fun.

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