JUPITER, Fla. (KMOV.com) - In his four seasons with the Cardinals, Matt Adams has hit only one of his 39 home runs to the opposite field. On Thursday, he hit his first of spring, sending a ball over the left field wall.
But the left-handed slugger didn’t pore over piles of research in the offseason on how to beat the shift. He kept it much simpler; he just stopped thinking about it.
“The shift's not even in my head anymore,” Adams said after his two-hit day. “The other day the Marlins shifted and I didn't even know they were until I got into the dugout and somebody said they did. Last year I learned to just kind of let that go instead of letting it get in the back of my mind and thinking about it too much.”
It won’t be enough for Adams to simply beat shifts, but also improving his numbers against left-handed pitchers. The 27-year-old is mustering a measly .197 average, and a .547 OPS against lefties in 230 plate appearances. Compare those stats to his .296 average and .822 OPS against righties and there’s little mystery to what will determine his playing time in 2016.
To combat the hole in his offense, Adams said he’s trying to keep his front shoulder squared to the ball as long as possible. In turn, that’s benefiting his entire game; giving him the ability to drive an outside pitch to the opposite field.
“Things are clicking right now and I’m seeing the ball whether it’s righty or lefty. It was just about getting the timing down and keeping my front side in there longer, especially against lefties,” Adams said.
Opening up the entire field makes Adams a more versatile tool for a manager who already has a tough decision at first base.
Mike Matheny made it clear early the position will be won at the plate this spring. While Brandon Moss doesn’t produce high numbers, he puts up more consistent stats than Adams with an average in the mid-200s regardless of the right-handed/left-handed matchup. Now that Matt Holliday, a .299 career hitter with a .500 career slugging percentage against LHP has been thrown into the mix, Adams must hit lefties to stay in the lineup.
“I think competition brings out the best in whoever’s competing for that job. For me it’s just about having a healthy spring and getting to where I feel comfortable,” added Adams, who came into camp at the same weight but with more muscle mass. “After that it’s out of my hands. I can control what I can control and that’s come in everyday, work hard and compete in games. At the end of spring training we’ll see where we’re at.”
In addition to being able to go the opposite way with power, the club once again is hoping Adams will also go that direction with finesse. After scorching two balls in Port St. Lucie, the big lefty said he had soured somewhat on bunting to beat the shift. Having had little success with the strategy so far, he felt he was better suited playing to his strengths.
“I was a little concerned. I know he told you all he’s going to stop trying to bunt and I think that’s a bad play. If they’re going to give you a base hit, take it. If they’re going to give it to you again, two-hit days are hard to come by,” Matheny said. “If you’re leading off an inning and the wind is coming in from right, why not?”
The message clearly made it’s way to Adams, who laid down a bunt in his first at bat against the Braves a day after swearing off small ball.
Rather than trying to drag bunt, as he had in the past, Adams squared up early and calmly pushed a bunt down the third base line.
“It was beautiful,” Matheny said. “It doesn’t feel normal, I would imagine, to get squared around that early ... We’re trying to teach a sacrifice to a kid that’s been hitting fourth his whole life and never had to bunt.”
His second at bat was more traditional, as he sent a ball soaring out to the track in right center. It was held up by the wind, but it was a nice compliment to the soft touch he had employed two innings earlier.
Adams has always had the ability to send a ball hundreds of feet. If he can send that way in both directions, he’ll start making teams rethink the shift. If he can learn to set it down on the infield grass, he’ll remove the defense’s temptation entirely.