Giancarlo Stanton can make hitting look easy. At just 22 years old, the Miami Marlins slugging outfielder combines prodigious power with an ability to hit for a solid average. Last season he belted 34 home runs, and this year he boasts a .283/.365/.555 slash line and has 19 long balls on his ledger. His current-season numbers would be even better were it not for a 12-for-64 stretch from June 1 through June 20.
Currently day-to-day with a balky knee, Stanton will represent the Marlins in next week’s All-Star Game and — health permitting — participate in the Home Run Derby. He discussed his hitting approach during a mid-June visit to Fenway Park.
Stanton on hitting: “The first thing you need is a good pitch to hit. You can feel as good as ever, but if you don’t swing at strikes, you’re not going to be successful. There are times that hitting is very interesting. It’s also a long process. You can feel great and swing at strikes and still make outs, so it’s about consistency. You have to make sure you’re doing the right things and not changing just because you’re not successful for a short time.
“For me, it’s about staying inside the ball and not trying to hurry up on a pitch inside. That’s one of the things when you’re not hitting well, you see the ball inside and think, ‘Boom! I have to get to it real quick.’ It’s more the opposite. You want to be smooth and soft with your body to get to that ball.
“You can’t go and get the ball. It’s already coming at 90-95 mph and if you go after it, that’s going to make it 100-something mph. You have to let it come to you and catch it with the bat.
“Location-wise, I’m mostly looking middle — kind of middle-away — and adjusting. If the ball is inside, I’ll react to that. Being able to drive the ball the other way is huge, otherwise you’re playing a big-league game with half the field. That gives everyone a chance to shift on you, which makes it a smaller field with more defenders. You have to keep the defense honest, as well as the pitcher. You want the pitcher to know, ‘Hey, if you throw it out over the plate, I’ll drive it to the opposite field.’ Being able to do that should be a big part of everybody’s game.
“You have to learn as you face better pitching, because it gets sharper as you go higher up. Those hanging sliders that you can kind of gather for and hit the other way are now cutters, or three or four mph faster. You may not have that extra time to get all of it, so you have to learn patience.
“When I face a pitcher, I want to know if his fastball is straight, or how much it moves. I want to know what his go-to pitches are with runners on. I basically want to know what his main out-pitches are. I like to watch previous games to see how he throws to hitters who are relatively similar to me. I’m more video than reports. I’ll skim reports and study video.
“When I’m not going well, I’m basically rushing. I’m hurrying. I’m basically doing the opposite of what I explained earlier. I’m seeing the ball out over the plate and trying to get to it quick, or I’m trying not to strike out instead of trying to hit. If you come into an at bat thinking, ‘Let’s not strike out,’ then you’re already worrying about being at two strikes. When you’re 0-0, you’re in the driver’s seat.
“Hitting is mostly from the neck up. Once mechanics aren’t a factor any more — which they’re mostly not, at this stage — it’s really about how you think about it.
“You have to be confident, but there are no easy at bats. There are no lay ups; there is no wide open pass. There is a guy on the mound who is trying to feed his family. He‘s not going to give in, and even if he does — even if you know what‘s coming — it‘s still going to be you and a 90-mph ball that‘s [the size of a baseball]. Hitting isn’t easy.”
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