Mariners hitting coach Tim Laker has an array of responsibilities: Sometimes he’s an analyst. Sometimes he’s a teacher. And sometimes, he’s human Ambien.
That last role was the one he played Tuesday night while working with Daniel Vogelbach, the Seattle slugger who had just seven hits in his last 51 at-bats.
Vogey was getting frustrated. The Mariners’ lone All-Star was fresh off his third straight 0-for-4 outing and needed to adjust. So he watched some video with Laker, got some advice on how to better utilize his lower half, and walked away seemingly satisfied.
Did something click with him during that film session?
“I think at least it gave him peace of mind so he could go home and get some sleep and not drive himself nuts all night,” Laker said. “He felt like he had a plan of attack.”
The manifestation of that plan was two home runs off Rangers ace Mike Minor in the Mariners’ 5-3 win Wednesday. The first went 422 feet. The second 393. And with his 24th and 25th dingers of the season, Vogelbach was back among the top five American League home-run leaders this season.
The Mariners need this right now. More significantly, Mariners fans need this right now. With their team sitting at 42-63, there isn’t a lot to lure them to the ballpark. But when there’s a guy with potential to go deep — real deep — every time he steps to the plate, there’s an incentive for them to walk through the gates of T-Mobile Park.
Vogelbach wasn’t among the highly-emphasized talent when this “step-back” season began. Most of the intrigue centered around newcomers such as shortstop J.P. Crawford, or prospects such as Justus Sheffield and Jarred Kelenic.
Vogelbach had just four home runs in 61 big-league games before the year began. Now he’s got 25 in 95 (he has missed 10 games) while emerging as the stadium’s primary draw.
Of course, if there’s been a blemish on Vogey’s 2019 resume, it’s been his inability to produce off left-handed pitchers. Entering Wednesday, only two of his 23 bombs had come off southpaws, against whom he was hitting .127 through 80 plate appearances.
Then came two shots off Minor, a lefty whose 2.86 ERA was the second-best in the AL before Wednesday. A sign of what’s to come?
“That’s what I plan on doing up here … hitting lefties and playing every day,” said the left-handed Vogelbach, who has more than 200 more plate appearances against righties than he does left-handed pitchers. “I’m not worried about hitting lefties … obviously skipper (Scott Servais) isn’t either because he played me today. That’s all that matters.”
This upcoming series against Detroit could help cement Vogelbach’s future as an everyday player. Three of the Tigers’ four probable starting pitchers are all left-handed, and Servais indicated that Vogey will be out there to face them. If he becomes a consistent threat against southpaws, Vogelbach would evolve from Mariners All-Star to All-Star Anywhere.
Regardless, his has been one of, if not the most auspicious seasons for the Mariners this year. As much as Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto would talk him up, Vogelbach’s hitting never quite lived up to the hype.
That’s not the case anymore.
“If he gets his pitch, it’s out of the park, there’s no question about that,” Servais said Wednesday, adding that it’s important for him to stay aggressive even when he isn’t getting the desired results. “He has made some strides. And like I said, this next stretch coming up we’re going to find out a lot more.”
Vogelbach admitted he used to put far too much pressure on himself in his younger days, which often squelched his production.
These days, he is more mature and can sleep more soundly. Although he may keep opposing pitchers up.