Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan wants to contribute with his bat after hitting .194 in 2012, and simplifying his swing with help from his brother could help.
PEORIA, Ariz. — For Brendan Ryan, the road back over the Mendoza Line began in the parking lot outside a Los Angeles Clippers basketball game.
Ryan, the Mariners’ starting shortstop despite a sub-.200 batting average last season, is a big Clippers fan and his older brother, Paul, is a season-ticket holder for the NBA team. Paul, 15 years older, coached Brendan from the time he played T-ball at age 4 and isn’t shy about offering tips.
“He knows my swing as well as anybody,” Brendan Ryan said. “He’s hardly missed any games my whole life. If anybody’s going to notice that something is way off, it’s going to be him.”
Even if it means giving a hands-on hitting demonstration to a major-leaguer in the parking lot of Staples Center, home of the Clippers. The Ryans chatted often by phone throughout last season, with big brother trying to keep his younger sibling’s confidence up.
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Paul noticed his kid brother’s swing getting too complicated, with a toe-tap here, an open-stance there. The timing was messed up, Brendan’s swing was in and out of the strike zone, and when he pressured himself to do more, he only made things worse.
“Your frustration builds and you’re chasing your tail,” Brendan Ryan said. “I should have learned from the past, but it seemed like the harder I tried, the harder it got.”
Ryan, who underwent minor surgery on bone spurs in his elbow in the offseason, hopes for a fresh start on the field in 2013.
After Ryan finished last season with a .194 batting average, he returned to his Los Angeles-area home and began more technical discussions with his brother.
Once in a while that happened on the way to Clippers games.
“That’s where we could get our best one-on-one time,” Paul Ryan said. “We’d be driving to the game and going over stuff in detail. Then, we’d park and I’d literally get out of the car and into a batting stance to show him what I was talking about.”
Paul wanted Brendan to keep things simpler.
They eliminated the toe-tap before the swing. Brendan now stays more balanced in the box, allowing the ball to come to him instead of jumping out in front of pitches.
Part of it came from a suggestion by former hitting coach Chris Chambliss: get the barrel of the bat through the strike zone quicker to try for more doubles down the line.
And Chambliss wasn’t the only one making suggestions.
“It seems like everybody was filling his head with ideas on how to tinker with his swing,” Paul Ryan said. “I remember once, we were talking on the phone and (pitcher) Jason Vargas was in the background and he started making suggestions.”
Instead, the brothers focused on holding the bat back as long as possible before swinging. Now Brendan Ryan tries for an “inside-out” approach to the ball in an effort to hit line drives up the middle.
“As long as I can remember, whenever he’s done well at the plate, that’s the type of swing he’s used,” Paul Ryan said.
The advice was appreciated. Born the last of four children — with a 14-year gap between him and the youngest of his other siblings — the shortstop often felt like he had two fathers showing up to his youth baseball games.
When his father, Jim, died in 2006, Ryan was just a year out of rookie-league ball. Paul became his sounding board for all things baseball.
“I think if my father was still alive, he’d be telling me all the same things Paul is,” Brendan Ryan said.
Becoming the hitter he used to be is a priority. Ryan hit .292 with a .740 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 486 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2009. Two years earlier, in more of a part-time role, he hit .289 with a .752 OPS.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given here,” said Ryan, who was married in December. “Because coming off an offensive year like that last year, not many things are promised. I know I’m getting another opportunity, and that has a lot to do with the glove. I don’t take that for granted.”
Ryan knows his baseball future would be brighter and his wallet likely bigger if his hitting came closer to matching his defense.Widely seen as the top defender in the majors at his position — he won the sabermetric-inclined Fielding Bible Award last year while narrowly losing the Gold Glove to J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles — even average offensive numbers would make him one of the game’s elite shortstops.
“If I do stick with this, I truly believe that my numbers will be there,” Ryan said. “I will help this team offensively and not just defensively.”
• Mariners ace Felix Hernandez threw three innings of one-run ball and 38 pitches against Arizona in a 5-4 loss Tuesday, then added a dozen more pitches in the bullpen. The 50-pitch total sets Hernandez up to throw about 65 in his third Cactus League outing.
• Struggling Mariners pitcher Hector Noesi yielded two walks and a three-run homer to Mark Teahen in his lone inning in relief of Hernandez.
• OF Casper Wells will likely need another day off to recover from a stiff neck.
• OF Jason Bay led off for the first time in his career and went 0 for 3. The Mariners are experimenting with several players in the role, uncertain whether to put 2B Dustin Ackley there again this season.
|Eaton cf||3||0||0||0||Bay rf||3||0||0||0|
|O.Linton cf||2||0||2||0||F.Martinz cf||1||0||0||0|
|J.Loftus cf||0||0||0||0||Ackley 2b||4||0||1||0|
|Pnningtn ss||3||0||0||0||K.Morales 1b||3||1||1||0|
|C.Owings ss||2||0||0||0||Jacobs 1b||1||0||0||0|
|Pollock rf||2||0||0||0||Smoak dh||4||0||1||0|
|Clevlen rf||2||0||0||0||Thames lf||4||0||2||1|
|Gldsmdt 1b||2||1||1||1||J.Montero c||3||0||0||0|
|J.Griffin 1b||1||0||1||0||Zunino c||1||0||0||0|
|Hinske dh||3||1||1||1||B.Miller 3b||4||2||2||1|
|G.Wbr ph-dh||1||0||0||0||J.Morbn cf-rf||4||1||1||0|
|A.Marte lf||2||1||0||0||Ryan ss||3||0||1||1|
|E.Frey lf||0||0||0||0||Franklin ss||1||0||0||0|
|Arizona (ss)||010 310 000||—||5|
|Seattle||000 120 001||—||4|
E — B.Drury (1). DP — Seattle 1. LOB — Arizona 7, Seattle 5. 2B — Smoak (4), B.Miller (2), J.Morban (3). HR — Hinske (1), Teahen (1), B.Miller (1). CS — O.Linton (1).
|Corbin W, 2-0||4||4||1||1||0||2|
|F.Hernandez L, 0-1||3||1||1||1||1||3|
WP — E.Smith, Luetge, Y.Medina. T — 2:47. A — 7,015.
Spring Training statistics
|Seeking an upswing|
|Brendan Ryan is trying to reverse a decline in his offensive numbers since 2009.|
|* on-base-plus slugging percentage|