Subtle changes pay off at plate for Weeks
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
PHOENIX--Sometimes even small adjustments can provide big results.
Coming off a disappointing 2013 that ended prematurely after surgery on his left hamstring, Rickie Weeks has been swinging a red-hot bat for the Milwaukee Brewers.
With Cactus League play entering its second week, Weeks is hitting .444 with one home run, one run batted in and two runs scored. He also has walked four times against just one strikeout in 13 plate appearances.
What really has stood out about Weeks, though, is the contact he’s been making. Almost everything he’s hit has been well-struck.
“If you guys watch the balls come off his bat, it’s pretty scary,” manager Ron Roenicke said Tuesday. “Killing the baseball. I hope he continues it. When he’s swinging the bat like this he is really fun to watch.”
Weeks has seen his average slip from .269 in 2011, when he was the starting second baseman for the National League in the All-Star Game, to .230 in 2012 to .209 last season while his strikeout totals have mounted.
Never one to tinker with his approach at the plate before, Weeks spent the offseason trying to reinforce a few key points. That, along with a slight change in the position of his hands, is helping make a difference as he attempts to fend off youngster Scooter Gennett for the starting job at second base.
“Just keeping everything smooth, really,” Weeks said when asked about the changes. “You keep everything smooth, everything kind of falls in place.
“The biggest thing is maybe just slowing down, really. My hands are a tad bit higher, minute bit higher. But other than that, just slowing everything down.”
Roenicke was asked if the 31-year-old Weeks is forced to change some things up as he gets older.
“Not just age (makes) you learn to do different things, but sometimes you just realize, ‘I’m not successful in this and I’ve got to make some improvements,’” Roenicke said. “Sometimes it’s with stance, sometimes it’s your thinking that changes.
“So he’s made some adjustments and right now looks really good.”
Weeks and Gennett have been mostly alternating day to day at second base, with Gennett hitting .100 (1 for 10). Weeks, meanwhile, is enjoying his hot start to the spring while hitting mostly in the leadoff spot.
“Feel great,” said Weeks, who was 0 for 2 with two walks and a run scored in the Brewers’ 6-4 loss to the Oakland A’s on Tuesday. In his first at-bat, he hit a missile to left field that Yoenis Cespedes was able to spear for an out.
“It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time, actually. Stay with it, I guess.”
So far, so good: Whereas Weeks’ hard-hit balls have stood out to Roenicke, so has Wily Peralta’s velocity.
Peralta averaged 95.4 mph on his fastball last season, but to be turning heads with his velocity this early in the spring is somewhat unusual. At this point it’s judged more by the snap of the catcher’s mitt than a radar gun.
“I don’t really focus on velocity right now,” Peralta said. “I know it’s going to be there. I just want to locate the pitch. I don’t want to overthrow — just locate it.”
The big right-hander turned in a second consecutive strong outing Tuesday, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three in a three-inning, 43-pitch start against the A’s. He reported success with all three of his primary pitches — fastball, slider and changeup.
“When he’s under control and just letting it go and not trying to overthrow it, he’s been good,” Roenicke said. “He’s down in the zone. With that kind of movement, it makes it tough (on hitters).”
Peralta, who used a strong second half to close 2013 with an 11-15 record and 4.37 earned-run average, is focusing on getting out of the chute stronger in 2014.
“I want to eliminate the slow start,” Peralta said. “I wanted to prepare earlier in the offseason and pitch better.”
Tough debut: While Peralta was solid, Johnny Hellweg had a forgettable ninth-inning stint.
One of a group of young starters trying to make a good impression, Hellweg was handed the ball with a one-run lead and gave up a double, single and two-run home run as the A’s posted the walkoff victory at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
It was the first Cactus League appearance for Hellweg this year as the Brewers utilized four starters —Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Jimmy Nelson and Hellweg.