Day 13: I’ll take some reggae with my BP, thanks
PEORIA, Ariz. — Hey friends. I’ve been meaning to write about the Padres covered batting practice area for a few days but haven’t gotten around to it. Pretty interesting place. There are a few central areas to the complex here — the fields, clubhouse, bullpens and the covered hitting area, where position players can show up early to take batting practice and pop in during inclement weather for a few swings. The place gets busy following the Padres workout each day as hitters get a few extra swings in.
But it’s never busier than early morning, when new hitting coaches Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell and often a few other instructors are working with hitters who often bypass a little morning breakfast for a few swings in a controlled environment.
There are five or so cages in this facility and a few have pitching machines in them and all have L-screens, protective screens that separate the coaches from the hitters. Believe me, you want this, especially working in close proximity. Screens don’t always help, though. Reminds me of the Cactus League game a few years ago when former Padres GM Kevin Towers got smoked in the face by a Mike Baxter foul ball and went directly through the screen behind home plate.
Heck, last spring, bench coach Rick Renteria got hit in the mouth by a ball that glanced off one of the metal poles on the screen. The point is, you’re never really safe.
Anyway, back to the cages. I got here early today — through not as early as Plantier and Powell, who are ready and willing to work with hitters as early as 6:45 a.m. I watched as Plantier worked with Jedd Gyorko and Blake Tekotte today. They were hitting the ball off a batting tee with Plantier stopping every few minutes or so to talk hitting, mechanics, adjustments and everything else in between, with the hitters.
Rising slightly about the noise of batted balls, is music coming from an iPad that’s hooked up to a speaker. The music — I heard everything from reggae, rap and rock — is, as I’ve been told, sort of a nice distraction for players. One player told me they went a few days without any music a while back and it was excruciating.
Mostly, though, it’s Plantier and Powell working with these guys. Hitting, the swing, set-up, load and stride, is such a personal thing. Hittesr all have habits, most good, some bad. Some are reluctant to stray from what has worked to accept an unfamiliar fix. Some are desperate for a change. What I’ve already found is a good bond between Plantier and Powell and many of the hitters. It’s a bond that extends beyond common teaching. It’s more about trust. Trusting the information, trusting where it comes from and trusting that it will work.
Plantier is a cage rat, which is something of a term of endearment. This is where he’s most comfortable. Think he cares who the Opening Day starter is? Think he knows the names of all the pitchers in camp? Probably not. He doesn’t need to. The swing is his thing. And, most importantly, guys are buying in.
“He’s a good teacher, a good communicator and he’s really positive. But at the same time, if you’ve got something that he thinks you need to make an adjustment with, he’ll tell you right away. He’ll also let you know if you’re not doing the work. He doesn’t want you to take a million swings, he’s all about getting your routine in. He understands that it varies from guy to guy. He’s not going to force you to do something that he believes in,” — Padres outfielder Will Venable.
So, back to Friday.
— Talked with 2011 first-round draft pick, second baseman Cory Spangenberg. Funny, the spell-check wants to call him Spitsbergen. What is that? [Hint: I looked. It’s an island. Whatever.] Anyway, Spangenberg will be profiled later on Padres.com. He talked about how important it was that he signed early and got his professional career started. He’ll likely begin the season at Lake Elsinore one month after turning 21.
— The Padres won’t likely play any intrasquad games this spring. They have 29 pitchers in camp and Bud Black said if that number was higher, then it might be a different story. I know the Mariners are trying to pick up — or were — some ‘B’ games to play so their pitchers in camp who aren’t going to Japan later in the month, can get some work in. No idea how successful they were with this, but they won’t be facing the Padres.
— A reminder, especially for those heading out here to watch some Minor League players in games — Minor League game begin on March 15. Games run through March 31 with no games scheduled for March 22 and March 27. Those are camp days here in Peoria where Minor League staff will work with players on any number of things. Keep that in mind if you head out here. All games begin at 1 p.m.
— As I’ve mentioned several times, exhibition games start Sunday and will go through April 1. Black and the front office staff take a lot into consideration when looking at players and trying to make roster choices. Performance is one aspect, but it’s not everything. “But as I tell the players, every day is a test. We approach everything with that in mind. But it’s better to play.
— Programming note (no, not television … still not there yet). It appears Black won’t be in Peoria on Wednesday to witness the media spectacle that is Yu Darvish, when the Japanese import comes to Peoria with the Rangers for a game against the Padres. The Padres have a split-squad game that day, with one team headed to Goodyear to play the Reds. The rest of us left behind will fight for seats in the press box.
— Black had some good things to say about the work Will Venable has done this winter and spring with Plantier. Venable is working to find a comfortable, productive set-up and swing and feels like he’s made some in-roads with Plantier. Only time will tell. “We’ll see,” Black said. “It’s one of those questions that will be answered when we play.”
— As for Sunday’s game, here’s the pitching rotation if you missed it: Bass (2 innings), Matt Palmer (2), Alex Hinshaw 1, Luke Gregerson 1, Andrew Cashner 1, Dale Thayer 1, Erik Hamren 1. If the Padres needs extra pitchers, Cory Burns, Brad Brach and Nick Vincent will be in uniform to help. But, you know, let’s hope they’re not needed.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Have a good weekend. Hope you’re making it out to watch some games.
Corey Brock, MLB.com