Some comments made by Twins center fielder Byron Buxton during the road trip to Fenway Park last week sent the blogosphere/Twittersphere into a tizzy. Buxton, who has hit just .209/.283/.303 this season coming into Thursday night’s game against the Orioles, told Jake Depue of 1500ESPN that he had scorned the leg kick he used to start the season in order to put the ball in play more — including more balls hit on the ground.
“[The goal is] putting the ball in play more,” Buxton told Depue. “Putting it on the ground more to get it out of the air. With the leg kick I was more fly ball oriented. It didn’t give me a chance to get on base. Now putting it on the ground I at least have the chance of beating it out or them rushing the throw and making an error.”
It’s not hard to read what Buxton said and be immediately discouraged. There’s a reason why the catchphrase among hitters is “Elevate and celebrate.” It’s not exactly earth-shattering science, either; hit the ball on the ground, and you limit yourself to singles and lots of outs. Hit it in the air, and you’re open to not only singles, but extra-base hits of all shapes and sizes.
So to hear what Buxton said and not immediately think that he was moving away from his strength and ceiling for the false security of the “safety” of his speed is totally understandable.
But according to hitting coach James Rowson, the fears are also unfounded.
Make no mistake about it: the Twins are in no way trying to get Buxton to be a slap-happy, beat-it-into-the-ground-and-beat-the-throw kind of hitter.
“Absolutely not,” Rowson said of the seemingly prevalent thought that the Twins wanted Buxton to hit the ball into the ground and use his speed as his primary offensive weapon. “Absolutely not. Here’s the deal: I clearly do not want Byron Buxton to hit the ball on the ground and run. (laughs) That is not in the plan. Without a doubt, he’s has a chance to be a dynamic player in this league for years to come and he has the ability to drive the baseball.”
Rowson added that he was encouraged by Buxton’s progress even as recently as Thursday night, as the youngster absolutely peppered some balls on the way to a 2-for-4 night — his second multi-hit game in a row and third over his last six games.
“Just last night he hit three balls over 100 mph, which shows you that he’s hitting baseballs hard in the last few days,” Rowson said. “It’s starting to come along. No, the goal is not to hit balls on the ground. The goal is going to be to use the whole field and hit balls hard.”
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