WASHINGTON – Hunter Pence squinted at the graphic on a reporter’s cell phone and let out a loud laugh.
It showed a strike zone, a batter’s form, and a red dot that showed the location of the pitch that Pence hit out of the ballpark Saturday night.
The red dot was nearly off the top of the phone’s screen.
“It wasn’t over my head!” Pence said with incredulity. “That is really, really funny. … Can you send that to me?”
Neither Nationals manager Matt Williams nor pitcher Jordan Zimmermann could believe that Pence hit that pitch out. The catcher was reaching straight up, with no bend in his elbow. It might have gone to the screen. Instead, it rocketed over the center field fence.
Regular humans don’t get the barrel to pitches that high. Do they?
“Well, yeah, they do if you practice it,” Pence said.
Wait. Pence practices swinging at pitches nearly over his head?
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I set the tee really high – as high as it will go. I figure if I’m going to swing at that pitch, I’d better learn how to hit it. It’s something I noticed when I was with the Astros.”
Earlier in his career, Pence would set the tee low. Coaches always told him it was harder to hit and drive low pitches, so that’s what he practiced. But high fastballs were the ones getting him out.
It was a former Giant who inspired Pence to change the way he practices.
“Pedro Feliz would set the tee as high as it went,” Pence said. “He told me it helps him to practice hitting high pitches. It made sense to me. I want my hands to be able to stay on top of it. I’d see him crush some of those high pitches so it made sense to try it.”
Pence doesn’t recommend his methods to everyone, though. He also doesn’t always recommend swinging at pitches neck-high and above.
“Oh, there are times I regret swinging at that pitch,” he said.