Pirates’ Gregory Polanco kept slump at arm’s length, became one of the NL’s hottest hitters
Gregory Polanco was getting jammed in too much. He was missing strikes he was swinging at.
“And when I hit it on the barrel, it was a foul ball,” Polanco said Tuesday, referring to an early-season swoon that dropped his batting average to .200 as late as mid-June.
Turns out, all Polanco had to do was take a step back.
Figuratively? Yes. The young Pirates outfielder needed to re-evaluate and deconstruct his swing and his approach.
But it was the literal step back — in the batter’s box — that made all the difference, Polanco said Tuesday.
“(Manager Clint Hurdle) called me into the office and he said, ‘Hey you have got to move back from the plate because you have long arms,’ ” Polanco said. “So (Hurdle and the Pirates’ two hitting coaches told Polanco), ‘Just move back and give yourself some space because you are getting jammed, but when you’re back that’s when you hit the ball on the barrel.’
“I said, ‘I like it, let’s try it.’ And from that point at that time I started, little by little — it takes time — but little by little, things got better and better.”
Have they ever. Polanco went from flirting with the Mendoza Line to becoming one of the National League’s best hitters over a span of almost a full month. His .447 on-base percentage and 1.104 OPS since June 10 each rank third among all NL players.
“He battled, he changed some things in his swing, tried a lot of different things,” teammate Corey Dickerson said. “He kept battling.”
Polanco typically has been a streaky hitter since debuting in the majors four years ago. And he undoubtedly has had an up-and-down 2018: 1.099 OPS his first 12 games, .617 OPS over the next 49 games, 1.243 in the 19 games since.
But through it all, Polanco leads NL right-fielders with 35 extra-base hits and ranks fourth at the position in total bases (126) behind Nick Markakis, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper (127).
“It’s a long season. Everybody has their ups and downs,” Polanco said. “I guess right now I feel good. My bat is in the right position, and I’ve made a couple adjustments at the plate, moving farther from the plate. I’m seeing the ball pretty good right now and putting a good swing on it.”