NEW YORK – Erick Aybar never struggled in his major league career like he did for his first six weeks with the Braves, when the veteran shortstop was, quite frankly, the worst hitter in the majors.
Having never experienced failure to that degree in his previous 10 seasons, perhaps he didn’t know the best way to undo it. But Aybar, 32, wanted to do things his way, to figure it out.
“He’s never been one that wants a lot of instruction,” Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said. “Like, literally doesn’t want to talk about it. And you can only help when you’re allowed to help. But I’ve just been encouraging him to get back in the middle, because he’s been way too pull-happy, for me, all season trying to yank, yank. When you pull you’ve got to go early and you swing at bad pitches.”
It took longer than Aybar or the Braves could’ve imagined, but it appears he’s finally worked through his funk.
After hitting .174 with just four extra-base hits, five RBIs, a .207 on-base percentage and .205 slugging percentage in his first 38 games, Aybar is 12-for-38 (.316) with a .426 OBP and .421 slugging percentage in his past 13 games.
“I feel good,” he said. “Better and better every day. I’ve been working. I’ve got more confidence now, going to the plate and just seeing the ball, not thinking too much.”
He also made the second of two strong throws in a terrific relay play from center fielder Ender Inciarte in Saturday’s game at New York, and on Sunday Aybar made the best defensive play for the Braves in Julio Teheran’s one-hit shutout against the Mets.
His offensive improvement began one week before Aybar’s stint on the 15-day disabled list for a foot contusion from being hit by a pitch. He’s made further strides since returning June 12, going 8-for-22 (.364) with four doubles, four RBIs, three walks and a .481 OBP in his past seven games.
“He’s got a lot better eye than he showed early,” Seitzer said. “Since he’s been back from (rehab stint at Triple-A) Gwinnett it’s been a lot better. Not quite as aggressive as he was before. The hands work better when you have a good approach.”
Aybar missed one more game after getting hit by another pitch June 13 – this time in the ribs – and since that incident he’s had six hits including two doubles and three RBIs during the Braves’ five-game winning streak.
“Sometimes when you see you’re struggling you change a lot, like with your hands, moving them up, down,” Aybar said. “But I started looking at my videos and everything and getting back to normal, getting back to what I was doing. I can watch my video and see it. Not think too much, come here every day, play every day, try and help my team win.”
Aybar was a .276 hitter in 10 seasons with the Angels, with at least 30 doubles in each of the past five seasons. He never walked frequently but also didn’t strike out much, with a high of 81 strikeouts in 2010 and fewer than 70 in four of five seasons since. But this season, he had 27 strikeouts in 132 at-bats over his first 38 games.
He’s cut that down to seven strikeouts in 13 games since he began his productive stretch.
“I went back over his last three years (on video) a month and a half ago and tried to go to him,” Seitzer said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about failures.’ I’m glad he’s starting to come around to doing what he used to do. That’s all. He used to get hits all over the place. He used to use the whole field, spray the ball around, just grinding at-bats.”
Now that he’s back to hitting like he’s used to, Aybar prefers not to dwell on his early season struggles.
“That’s my first time” struggling to that degree, he said. “That’s gone already. Have to keep coming and doing what I’m doing every day. Play baseball…. I feel like that’s me, what I’m doing now. See my pitch and not think too much.”
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