For Ty France, his Tuesday night at the plate in the Mariners’ 10-0 win over the Twins represented two trends that he hopes will change in the coming months.
After lacing a double on a first-pitch fastball away in his first plate appearance against Minnesota Twins starter J.A. Happ, France took 92-mph fastball off his right elbow, which was covered by a heavy pad, on a 2-2 pitch in his next trip to the plate.
It was the 12th time this season he’s been hit by a pitch, which is the most on the Mariners and second most in all of baseball. Oakland’s Mark Canha has worn 13 pitches. The 12 hit-by-pitches before the All-Star break tied a club record set by Dave Valle in 1993.
In his final plate appearance of the night, having already singled on a slider away from right-hander Gavin Jax in his previous at-bat, France turned on a 1-1 slider that was left in the middle of the plate, sending a solo homer over the wall in left field. It was France’s fourth homer of the season and his first in 42 games and 177 plate appearances.
While France isn’t known as a power hitter, he and the Mariners believe that he has the swing, the plate coverage and strength to deposit baseballs over the fence on a more regular basis.
If they could flip the homer total with the hit-by-pitch total, it’d be much more pleasing for all involved.
So why does France get dotted with pitches so often?
He doesn’t crowd the plate too much and he doesn’t dive over the plate on his swings.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” he said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais had his own answer.
“He gets the RBI single on a breaking ball out over the plate and he covers it,” Servais said. “He hits a home run on a breaking ball that’s kind of out over the plate. So if you’re going to face Ty, France, wouldn’t you like to throw him a bunch of fastballs inside?
“I think that attributes to a lot of him getting hit by a pitch. They’re trying to run the ball in there. They know he keeps his bat on plane for a very long time and he covers the breaking ball. The breaking ball in the zone, he hits it. That’s why drives in runs.”
This isn’t a new development for him.
“It seems to be the story of my baseball career,” he said. “It’s happened since my college days.”
In three seasons at San Diego State, France was hit 48 times, including 20 times as a junior.
While France doesn’t try to wear pitches, he also doesn’t do a lot to get out of the way of them.
“I think it kind of goes back to the college days where they praise you for not getting out of the way,” he said. “And I’ve just kind of used that. I don’t really walk too much, so I use that as my walking.”
His college coach at SDSU was Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who preferred to smack baseballs instead of letting them hit him.
“He actually called us crazy,” France said. “His take on it was, ‘You do us no good hurt.’ But it’s just one of those mentalities that you just kind of roll with.”
Servais doesn’t love the mentality. But he understands it.
“As long as he keeps getting hit on that pad, we’re good with it,” Servais said. “And I think he’s OK with it too. But once in a while, they don’t hit the pad and it hurts.”
It hurt when he took a 98-mph fastball from Dustin May off his unpadded right forearm earlier this season. It forced him out of the game and caused issues for several days. Still, France has no fears or concerns when he steps to the plate.
“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “It’s not like they’re trying to do it. And I’m not intentionally trying to get hit so, no, it’s not something that I worry about.”
He also isn’t worrying about the power numbers. The sprained left wrist he suffered while diving for a ball a week after getting hit by May left him in pain after almost every swing for weeks. It took a stint on the injured list to get him feeling right. Since he’s come back from the IL, he’s posted a .301/.383/.422 slash line with seven doubles, a homer, 10 RBI, four walks, seven strikeouts and yes, seven, hit by pitches.
He trusts his approach and process.
“You can’t really try to hit homers because they don’t really come like that,” he said. “It’s more having the right swing at the right pitch. If they go, they go. If not, you take your doubles. Honestly right when I came off the IL, my wrist felt better. It’s not 100% still, but definitely a lot better. It got to the point where every swing hurt. Now it’s just occasionally, but it made a huge difference, having that week off to recover.”