Saturday, April 21, 2012

Eckstein tries to keep Tracy sharp

US Presswire photo
Chad Tracy is making his first start of the season today.
Nobody who wore a Nationals uniform this spring appeared in more Grapefruit League games than Chad Tracy. Only Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa got more at-bats.

And then the season began and Tracy went from a lineup regular to a guy getting at most one at-bat per game, usually in a key spot against a tough reliever.

That's not the easiest adjustment for any player to make, let alone someone like Tracy who already faced a difficult adjustment returning to the major leagues after spending last year in Japan.

"It's been tough," he said this morning. "When your consistent at-bats aren't there any more, it tends to be a little tougher. We've been doing a lot of stuff down in the cages to try to keep those at-bats that I had in spring training kind of fresh."

What kind of stuff? Well, rather than take a traditional round of batting practice, Tracy has been taking "simulated at-bats" from Rick Eckstein, with Eckstein the hitting coach throwing at full velocity and even mixing in breaking balls.

Eckstein may not throw quite as hard as big-league pitchers, but because he stands only 45 feet from the plate, it's the equivalent of a 92-93 mph fastball.

"Forty-five feet, it's a lot harder to hit than it is at 60 feet," Tracy said. "Whatever he's featuring in there is usually a little bit better than what you're going to be facing out there, from a different distance. So it's been helpful."

Eckstein has been doing this for years, dating back to his time working with his brother (and former big leaguer) Rick. A relief pitcher in high school and junior college who once appeared in nine games in a span of seven days, Eckstein is able to offer his hitters something more than a traditional round of BP.

"I always liked that," he said. "My brother liked it when we do it. I think it kind of gives you that feel of tightening yourself up a little bit. And at times, I could throw a pretty good curveball. So give him a look at that, too, and try to spin it."

After spending the last two-plus weeks on the bench, Tracy today becomes the final position player on the Nationals' roster to start a game. He's filling in at first base for Adam LaRoche, batting cleanup against the Marlins.

The 31-year-old journeyman made a big splash off the bench during the Nationals' season-opening series in Chicago, delivering a key, ninth-inning double on Opening and then a two-run single two days later to drive in the winning runs. Since then, though, he's 0-for-7 with a walk.

Such is the challenge for a guy who typically gets only one at-bat per game.

"I've been doing a lot of work with Eck down in the cage, trying to stay sharp, a few different drills," Tracy said. "But getting to see a few at-bats strung together today should be good for me."


Holden Baroque said...

Courtesy post. Hate to see the zero there.

natsfan1a said...

It's only because Mark is dealing so that the new posts are coming with the speed of an H-Rod fastball. Or something like that. :-)

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