Austin Riley’s offensive surge pays tribute to late mentor Mike Brumley

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley hits a double during the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Atlanta. The Braves won 2-1. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley hits a double during the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Atlanta. The Braves won 2-1. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Mike Brumley played eight years in the major leagues before pursuing a coaching career that extended more than 20. Among other duties, he managed in the minor leagues and coached first and third base in the majors. He taught specialties such as fielding and base running.

Ultimately, he found his passion in helping players hit, from high schoolers to major leaguers. He was a private instructor in the Dallas area with his son Logan at the time of his death June 15 at the age of 61. He died in a multicar crash.

“I loved teaching base running and defense and all, but I thought, ‘OK, the make-or-break from a career standpoint is offense,’” Brumley said on former Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson’s podcast, released in January. “You can pick it all you want and you can have all the speed and all this, but if you can’t hit, it doesn’t matter.”

A star pupil was Braves third baseman Austin Riley. (Swanson was another.) Riley and Brumley began working together in 2018, when Brumley was hired as the Braves’ minor-league hitting coordinator. They continued their relationship even after Brumley left the organization before the 2022 season.

They communicated often and Riley made offseason trips to Dallas to hit under Brumley’s supervision. Riley said he has relied most on two people with the swing that has captured two Silver Slugger Awards as the top offensive third baseman in the National League — his father Mike and Brumley.

“He’s one of a kind,” Riley said last week of Brumley in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I wish more people had gotten to spend more time (with him). His knowledge of the game and being able to see the swing and stuff, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m going to miss him, for sure.”

The last time Riley saw Brumley was during the Braves’ series at Baltimore June 11-13. The mentor had traveled to Maryland to help his pupil out of an awful slump.

What has transpired since is astounding. Riley’s sizzling offensive production offers a tribute to Brumley and confirms his excellence at his craft. Finally free of possibly the worst hitting slump of his career, Riley has been demolishing baseballs.

“It was, honestly, working with ‘Brum,’” Riley said June 18. “I saw him, it’s been about a week ago now. Working with him and then our (analytics) guys upstairs. Saw a few things that just kind of put everything together.”

When Riley stepped into the batter’s box on June 14 at Truist Park for the series opener with the Rays, he was hitting .220 with three home runs in his first 53 games of the season. Up until this season, his lowest home-run total for any 53-game span in a season was seven. His OPS was .618, his lowest for any 53-game sample in a single season since 2019, his rookie year.

In his 23 most recent games at that point, a set of games that preceded and followed his absence with side soreness, Riley had hit .188 with no home runs and two doubles over 85 at-bats. Before this season, the longest homerless streak of his career in one season was 16 games.

He was working at a solution in the batting cage and by breaking down his swing. No answers were forthcoming.

Riley stayed with his routines and followed the cues that he has developed for his swing, he said, but “at the same time, you know something’s not right, so it’s a little bit of battling yourself of trying to find it, trying to stay consistent with your whole routine. It’s a humbling experience.”

He laughed at the “humbling experience” part, acknowledgment of the game’s knack for knocking its practitioners down a peg.

The problem, Brumley and Braves staffers figured out, was that his lower body “was more east and west working vs. north and south,” Riley said. That is to say, he was creating excessive rotational torque with not enough drive toward the pitcher.

“I was still putting up good at-bats, but then it’s like, when I got my pitch, I was a little out in front, they would just beat me a little bit,” he said. “I wasn’t able to drive the ball.”

After making the adjustment before the first game against Tampa Bay, Riley went 3-for-4 that night – a line-drive double to left, a 422-foot home run to left and a hard-hit single to right. It was most satisfying.

“I could just tell, the vibe of my pace and my swing,” Riley said. “Literally everything. It’s a good feeling. Because, like I said, we were searching hard. Because, obviously, I’ll be the first to tell you, I wasn’t very good.”

In the nine games from the first game against the Rays through the weekend series against the Yankees, Riley hit .433 (13-for-30) with four home runs and four doubles and an OPS of 1.481. The Braves were to start a three-game series at St. Louis Monday.

He has followed the worst slump of his career with one of his hottest streaks as his team has simultaneously recovered from a lengthy offensive slumber.

“It’s like when you do figure out that root cause and you get a swing off and you get the result,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Ah, there it is.’ It’s kind of like that aha moment of like, ‘OK, that felt really good. Let’s keep on going.’”

Finding the root cause of flawed mechanics was a Brumley staple.

“Let’s find the spider and not try to clean up all the webs all the time,” Brumley said on the “Patrick Jones Baseball” podcast in May. “My dad taught me that when I first started coaching.”

The influence of a wise hitting coach has been felt. Riley may wish more people had gotten to spend more time with Mike Brumley. Through his loyal student, at least, more people are getting to know what it would have been like.