SAN DIEGO – "Abre tus ojos."
The phrase may have inspired the film Vanilla Sky, but it's become a mantra at the plate for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Entering a three-game series in San Diego over the weekend, Puig was batting .180/.196/.300 over the past month and his approach at the plate was part of the problem for the Dodgers sputtering offense.
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Therefore, Puig went back to the drawing board with team hitting coach Turner Ward as the duo watched film and worked on mechanics.
"They worked on rhythm. He's got a little bit more of a leg kick," Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts said when asked what specifically they've been working on with Puig. "They've worked every day, but ultimately it comes down to getting a good pitch to hit."
Roberts is right. Puig's kryptonite has been pitches off the plate and opposing pitchers have easily been able to exploit the slugger's weakness by throwing him balls low and away that he frequently swings it.
According to Fangraphs, Puig has been swinging at nearly 70 percent of pitches on the outer third of the plate or further. That would explain why he's worked just two walks in his last 126 plate appearances and when he does make contact, the outcome is usually a shallow pop up.
Puig pops up nearly five times more than the league average at the plate, and already has a career high for infield flies in a season at 13, and it's still only May. If not for his Gold Glove like defense in right field, Puig might not be in the lineup every day.
"When you're aggressive, it gives you a better opportunity to take a pitch that's not in the strike zone," Roberts added. "When you use your aggression to hit a strike, your body position is in a better place to stop on the baseball."
On Friday, Puig showed signs of improvement as he went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and two runs scored in the team's 7-6 loss to the Padres. For Puig, he knows there's been a difference in his at-bats and he thinks its pretty simple to see.
"I was swinging at bad pitches," Puig said after the game, stating the obvious. "Open my eyes. Hit the ball. Wait for good pitches."
Sounds pretty easy, right? The good news is that Puig seems to be starting to understand how more power can come from patiently waiting for his pitch rather than swinging at anything that moves.
"The pitches today were in the zone, my hands and legs were on time and that is why I was able to get a hit and get a home run," Puig said in Spanish. "There is a difference."
Furthermore, Puig believes he can still be the aggressive hitter he's always been without comprising his personality at the plate.
"I've always swung at first pitches," Puig continued. "I swung at the first pitch today and got good results."
Puig hit a first pitch single in the second inning off Padres starter Christian Friedrich, and was able to wreak havoc on the base paths seconds later, when he scored from first on a double by Yasmani Grandal.
Puig followed up his single and run scored with a go-ahead two-run blast in the fifth inning. More important than the Wild Horse's fifth long ball of the season, was that it landed in right-center for an opposite field home run.
"To see him hit a baseball to right-center field like he did…his pulse is better," Roberts said of his right fielder. "He's swinging at strikes and taking balls. When he's in the strike zone, he'll be a lot more productive."
Puig's production is a cornerstone to the Dodgers' success and if the three-time National League West Division champions want to make it four in a row, they will need Puig to be productive at the plate.