Marlon Byrd won’t be facing live pitching in the near future, having suffered multiple facial fractures when hit by an errant Alfredo Aceves fastball on Saturday. When he does get back into action, he’ll go back to following a detailed routine that has served him well. The 33-year-old Cubs outfielder is a .294 hitter over the past four-plus seasons, and was hitting .308 at the time of the injury.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Byrd sat down to talk about how he prepared to face Florida’s Chris Volstad earlier in the week, and the results of each at bat.
Byrd, on preparing for the game: “My pre-game preparation stays the same; nothing changes. I go in and do my one-hand drills, which I’ve been doing since 2003. I started that with Bobby Abreau. I’m seeing the ball coming right at me when I’m doing my flips. First I start with my two-hand swing, with a short bat to make sure the ball gets close to me, then I go to a one-hand drill to make sure my bottom hand is where it should be.
“Everything in the beginning is with a short bat. The reason you use a short bat is because the longer the bat is, the further your hands can go and you can still hit the ball. If you do that with a short bat, you won’t even hit it, so it teaches you to keep your hands inside the ball. It makes sure that your hands stay close to your chest, going to the ball, which helps you stay inside the ball when you swing.
“So I go two hands, then I go one hand, bottom hand, top hand, and then I do a side drill that we just started doing to make sure my backside is coming through. [Hitting coach] Rudy [Jaramillo] tosses the ball at my front hip and I pull every single ball, but make sure that I do it the correct way. After about 10 of those, we go front on with flips.
“Lately he’s been adding on a little bit of fastball-changeup to make sure that I’m in position to hit, that I’m not jumpy and everything stays loose. Everything has to tighten up at the right time with the swing, but everything stays loose until the point of contact. That’s what we work on with the fastball-changeup drill.
“After that, I come in and look at a little bit of film of the starting pitcher we’re facing. I see what type of break he has on his pitches, what he does against right-handers, what he’ll do with runners on first and third, or on second and third, or just out of the windup with none out, one out, or two out; I see if he falls into a pattern. I check out his glove to see if he’s tipping. I take all of that into the game.
“With Volstad, during his windup you can sort of see more things than you can out of the stretch. He’s very quick out of the stretch. When you’re facing him, or seeing him on film, you’re realizing what your timing has to be. You have to get down a little bit early. Even though he is 6-foot-8 and is tall and long with his arm, he has a real short leg kick out of the stretch, whereas out of the windup you have plenty of time to get ready.
“Facing him, you also see that he is 90-92 with his fastball. He has straight sink, which goes straight downward with not much tail. That tells a right-hander that when the ball comes out of his hand, and is in, it’s not going to keep running in, so you can stay on the plate. I’m breaking down all of that and seeing what type of approach I’m going to have.
“He has a very good slider, which all of the Marlins do. All of the Marlins have great big breaking pitches. You notice he doesn’t throw changeups to righties, so you can eliminate that and look for two pitches — his fastball, which is sinking, and his slider. And you know he pounds the zone, so you have to be ready to hit. All of that preparation goes in before I even go out to take batting practice.”
On his batting practice routine: “In BP, my first round starts with two bunts. I always bunt my first one with one hand to make sure I’m controlling the bat. The next one I bunt with two hands and am seeing the ball hit the bat. I’m making sure I put one to first and one to third. From there, the first pitch is a hit-and-run. The second pitch is a man on second and get him over. Early in the game you want to drive the ball to right field, but late in the game you might just want to make sure you get a ground ball to the right side — you want to make sure you keep it to the right of the shortstop to get him over.
“Then there is infield-in and infield-back with a guy on third base. With the infield in, you’re trying to get the ball in the air. With the infield back, you’re trying to keep the ball in the middle of the field — keep it toward the second baseman and shortstop. After that, I do one squeeze. I get five swings in the first round, and I always use them to go opposite field. I try to see the ball get deep and drive it to right field.
“In my second round, I start to shift the field a little bit and go from right field more to right-center and center field. I go toward the middle and make sure that I’m driving the ball.
“My third round, I go runner-in-scoring-position, which means I want to get down a little earlier. With a guy like Volstad, or even most pitchers, they’re going to try to pound you in and get that ground ball to make sure the guy can’t advance. They don’t want the ball going to the outfield in the air.
“After that, in the fourth round, I go a couple of two-strike-mode, and then back to runners-in-scoring-position. In the last round, I just try to catch it out front and feel myself in a 2-0 or 3-1 count. I’m trying to really get the bat out front so I’m not getting beat on fastballs in fastball counts.
“I got more strict about my routine when I started working with Rudy in 2007, when I went to Texas. This is my fifth year with him, so this is something that is ingrained with me now. A lot of guys like going up there and just getting their swings and feeling everything, and some guys like to stay going the other way. It depends on what type of hitter you are, If you watch Jamey Carroll take batting practice, he’s going hit a lot of stuff to right field. He’s a smaller guy. A guy like [Alfonso] Soriano, he’s trying to hit homers to right-center field. That means he’s doing everything right, when you can drive the ball out to right center. All hitters are different.”
On his first at bat against Volstad [second inning, runner on second with none out, scoreless game]: “I had the same approach that I do in batting practice with a runner in scoring position — get it down a little bit early, knowing that he is going to try to throw that sinker in or a slider down and away. As I’m getting it down early, I can cover that sinker in and all I can do is push everything off the plate. He hit his spot — he threw a sinker in — and I was able to get the head out, because I was already in a position to hit. It’s all about preparation and having a plan. I knew what my plan was. After that, you just have to execute and sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t.”
[Byrd hit a ground ball to the shortstop, up the middle, advancing the runner to third.]
On his second at bat against Volstad [fourth inning, runner on second with one out, Cubs leading 1-0]: “I had the same approach. The number of outs didn’t make any difference at all. it was just a case of executing my plan. Volstad made his pitch, down and in, and I executed my plan and put a good swing on it. I was able to see the ball the ball very early, I knew what he was going to try to do, and I got one. Sometimes when a pitcher executes, he gets you out, but sometimes he doesn‘t.
“As a hitter, every time you execute your plan, you’re going to get good results. Even if it’s a line-drive out, it’s still a good result. You can’t think, ‘I want a hit, I want a hit.’ You can’t be result-minded. What you want is to hit line drives and barrel the ball.”
[Byrd hit a home run to left field.]
On his third at bat, against Brian Sanches [sixth inning, runners on first and third with one out, Cubs up 3-0: “I knew he had to locate his fastball, and that he had a split, but I ended up striking out because I got a little too aggressive and went away from my plan.
“I knew Sanches, what he was probably going to do, but he threw me more splits than he usually does. He usually throws me a lot of curveballs. Again, that’s him executing his plan. He changed it up on me. In all of my at bats against him, even in the minor leagues, he’s been mostly fastball-curveball, but he threw a couple of splits, and he threw some good ones.’
[Byrd struck out swinging on a 2-2 count.]
On his fourth at bat, against Ryan Webb, [eighth inning, runner on first with two out, Cubs up 3-0]: “I had a runner on first base in my last at bat, and I went back to my plan. Webb has a good sinker and I thought, ’Hey, nice and easy; get it down early, see the ball, get the barrel to the ball.’ I executed my plan in two out of my last three at bats.
“Webb threw me a lot of sliders at San Diego, but he came with fastballs, so my whole key was to be ready for anything. Again, get it down a little bit earlier so I can see the ball. I didn’t execute in my [previous] at bat — I didn’t execute my plan — but I did in my final at bat.
[Byrd doubled to right field.]
On analyzing his at bats after the game: “I only look back at my hits. I will not look at my at bats when I make outs. I really believe in positive reinforcement. If I have a game where I don’t get any hits, or if I don’t have a good game — I don’t like my swings — I look at games prior to it. I’ll even go back to my 2009 swing and look at all of my hits.
“I always want positive reinforcement. I don’t want to see the things that I did wrong, because you always want to repeat your A swing. To have your A swing you have to be in a position to hit, and you have to have your rhythm and timing, and the separation has to be there.”
On evolving as a hitter: “When I first came up, I could hit the baseball, but I didn’t know hitting and I didn’t know myself. I knew that my strength was the pitch away, and my weakness was the pitch in, and I didn’t really know how to hit the pitch in.
“I finally started knowing myself, working with Rudy in 2007. From 2003 through 2006, I really didn’t know my swing all that well. In 2007, I figured it out and I think it shows with the numbers. I’m able to have better at bats. When you’re facing your number ones and number twos, and your set-ups and your closers, those at bats become a lot more easy than they are difficult. Back then, I never had comfortable at bats against those types of pitchers.
“I’m a lot better at hitting than I used to be. Having my plan and being able to execute it is what has made me a better hitter. I had a plan before, but that plan was wrong, so I wasn’t able to execute it. Now I can, although the results of a given at bat aren‘t always what you want them to be.”