Marlins' Yelich not worried about another slow start
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Fine-tuning his sweet swing in a batting cage at spring training, Christian Yelich happily hits the reset button.
Yelich's average is back at .000, symbolic of a clean slate after he endured an awful start last year.
The Miami Marlins left fielder was batting .170 on May 9, .181 two weeks later and .227 on June 26. The worst slump of Yelich's career, compounded by a troublesome back, made his new $49.6 million, seven-year contract - big bucks for Miami - look like questionable investment.
It also made his final .300 average that much more impressive.
''Hitting .300 was kind of cool, and meant more because of where I started the year,'' he said.
Now Yelich is eager to pick up where he left off. He batted .357 over his final 71 games with an OPS of .910, and ranked sixth in the major leagues with a .342 average after the All-Star break.
A slender left-handed batter, Yelich finished with seven homers and 44 RBIs. He's only 24 and expects to hit with more power as he matures.
''I'm capable of doing it,'' he said. ''It's not something I'm going to try and do. If I go out and try to hit a lot of homers, it's going to be a repeat of last year.''
New Marlins manager Don Mattingly predicts Yelich will continue to blossom, in part because of his power potential.
''It's in there,'' Mattingly said. ''Part of hitting home runs is understanding what a pitcher is trying to do to you. His power is going to come; it happens with experience and with time.
''He's a very good player right now. He's going to be a great player.''
Last year Yelich ranked third among all left fielders in batting average, despite his miserable start. He's a career .290 hitter and doesn't expect a repeat of last spring's struggles in 2016.
''I'm not worried about being a slow starter,'' Yelich said. ''You just have times you're not feeling it. Last year mine happened to be the first couple of weeks.''
Well, it more like his first 55 games. He also sat out two weeks with a strained lower back. The team played poorly, and in May the Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond, a move that Yelich took hard.
He knew he was hitting lousy, and not just because of the awful statistics staring him in the face every time he stepped to the plate.
''You try not to look at the scoreboard,'' he said. ''You can just tell there's something off. You just don't feel right. I wasn't seeing the ball well or swinging at good pitches.''
Yelich's defense wasn't affected. He finished with six assists and only two errors after winning the Gold Glove in left field in 2014.
At the plate, a 4-for-4 game against the Dodgers in late June turned Yelich's season around. Three of the hits came against Clayton Kershaw.
From there Yelich's average steadily rose, finally reaching .300 on the next-to-last day of the season. That made the Marlins' seven-year investment in Yelich look a lot better.
''He finally got the back issues resolved that hampered him the first half of the season, and he became comfortable at the play,'' president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. ''He has been a hitter throughout his minor league career and in his time with us, and we firmly believe he will be an above-average offensive player.''
Yelich does, too. And he figures lessons learned last year will serve him well in the future.
''You realize even when it's going pretty bad, it'll turn around,'' Yelich said. ''If you come back from that, it's a good confidence boost, and something you can draw on for the rest of your career.''