Meulens challenges hitters to work smarter, not harder

February 25, 2012, 11:19 pm
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. In his first year as theGiants hitting coach Hensley Meulens ended up in the World Series winnerscircle. In his second year, his horse finished dead last. In runs scored, the Giants ranked 16th out of 16 National League clubs. Their .173 average with two outs and runners in scoringposition (in more than 600 at-bats) was the worst by any major league club infour decades for which data is kept. It was agony and ecstasy,inverted. Its awake up call to myself, said Meulens, the former Yankee fromCuracao.
Itold (GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy), Hey, I know I work hard. Butthe hard work has to show up in the field, and a lot of times it didnt. So Idont take anything for granted. Im glad theyre giving me the chance torectify a lot of the things that went wrong last year. That process began with a 9:30 a.m. meeting inthe batting cages Saturday that was attended by all the position players inmajor league camp. Bochy introduced Meulens, who delivered the main thrust ofthe message: Be focused and committed, recognize your role in situations andpractice smart in addition to hard. Hitting coordinator Joe Lefebvre spoke, as didspecial instructors J.T. Snow and Jeff Kent. Of all the other speeches, Kent,the 2000 NL MVP, went on the longest as he talked about preparation andfocus. We didnt wantto do this the first day, Meulens said. We wanted them to them get in and getsettled. We thought today was a good day to meet, just to make sure everybodygets on the same page. This will be a smooth running engine by the time weleave here in terms of focus and concentration. And be ready to hit the fastball. Thats a bigone, too especially with young players like Brandon Belt and BrandonCrawford, who struggled when they were rushed to the bigleagues. We had Beltmaking the team before his time, Meulens said. We had Crawford coming up fromA-ball. We had (Hector) Sanchez who began the year in A-ball. And also, (AubreyHuff) didnt have the year we thought he would have. (Andres) Torres didnt andCody Ross didnt, and yes, they were late on the fastball a lot because theirfoot wasnt getting down. Its hard to hit a quality major league fastball whenyour foots still in the air. Thats why we talked about having a linedrive and down mentality. When youre late on the fastball, thats when you hita lot of fly balls. If you neglect certain areas of your offense, itll show upat the end of the year. The Giants didnt struggle to put runs on theboard because they werent trying. In fact, all those extra swings in the cagefed into the problem, Meulens said. What I asked them to do is do less swingingand more quality swinging, he said. Just take a few swings, lock yourself inand preserve your energy for the game. Snow and Kent talked aboutthat. Theres a fewguys who do it well, but there are way too many guys who spend too much time inthe cage, way too much time watching video. You need those things, but at thesame time you have to know when enough is enough. So were going to minimize our time withvideo and the cage and concentrate on having a better plan at the plate.Because not only were we late on the fastballs, but we were fooled a lot whenwe were ahead in the count. They threw Huffy a lot of 1-0 changeups and hechased. You have to have a plan, knowing they will try to do that again untilyou make an adjustment. Part of that is trusting the hitter behindyou, Meulens said. Its a lesson that the 2010 team bought into as belief beganto surge. Its something that last years club never was able toestablish. Thatswhen youve got to be smarter and learn to pass the baton, Meulens said.Because if they dont want to pitch to you, the next guy can do thejob.Meulens said he is encouraged, and not only becauseBusterPosey is expected back or new additions AngelPagan andMelky Cabrera promise to provide more dynamicpresences. Itsbecause all of these guys are .270 hitters or better, Meulens said. Thatswho they are. I believe the numbers will go up. They have to be. They cant goany lower. And howdid the players respond during the 30-minute meeting? Thats whats intriguing, he said.Everybody right away said, We need to do this. Were much better than we werelast year. You look around at their faces and you see, Yeah, were hungry toget better at this. And all I ask is to have that 100 percentcommitment. Because if thats not there, its not going to happen. You cansense everybody is committed, is ready to turn the page, is ready to have ouroffense be talked about as just like they talk about out pitching in a goodway. Thats our goal-- not to worry about, Oh, we didnt score enough runs again. We told them,Hey, we didnt get a big bat. Theres a reason for that. We have the guys inthis room to put runs on the board. Lets just get focused and start doingthat. Meulens mightmiss a few early days in camp, though. He and his wife should welcome a newbaby any day now.