During one of the first days of spring training at JetBlue Park, the Red Sox outfielder was sharpening his swing in the batting cage, per his usual routine. That was until a visitor approached him in the middle of the session.
"Hey, what's your approach on hitting?" Adrian Gonzalez asked Sweeney, who was acquired by the Red Sox via trade in late December.
The conversation started casually, but Sweeney eventually explained to Gonzalez that he preferred to stand off in the batter's box and typically looked for pitches over the plate. His response fell in line with Gonzalez's hitting philosophy.
Instantly, they formed a mentor-to-peer friendship. These days, Sweeney is reaping the benefits of their relationship, hitting a team-best .315 to go along with 15 doubles — which is among the best in the American League — and credits Gonzalez for his guidance.
"He's essentially the same kind of hitter as me, but different obviously," Sweeney said. "He [taught me about] going up there with a game plan. He studies pitchers like crazy. I'm the kind of a guy that I don't want to know a whole lot about the pitcher, I just want to know what kind of pitches he throws and what he kind of tries to do to me."
Being that Sweeney is a left-handed hitter with a similar style, Gonzalez took a keen interest in the Red Sox outfielder. From afar, he admired Sweeney's swing and noticed flashes of promise in the 27-year-old.
Through seven seasons in the majors, however, Sweeney –– who is 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds –– never capitalized on his power potential at the plate, hitting just 14 career homers with 169 RBI heading into the 2012 season.
So during that first week of spring training, Gonzalez took to mentoring and started imparting advice to his new teammate.
"What I did tell him at the time was 'You got a great swing and to make sure you hold your balance, keep your backside and that way your hands can work,'" Gonzalez said. "[And] I told him 'Don’t get out on your front foot too early and take your hands away from your swing.'
"It’s pretty basic and I think it's something that anybody knows, but it's always good when it's reinforced."
As the friendship evolved, so did the words of wisdom. During their discussions, Gonzalez stressed the importance of pregame homework to Sweeney, explaining his personal method to video preparation.
After getting the exclusive tutorial from Gonzalez, Sweeney entered the regular season more educated.
"We don't talk about every single pitcher up there, but he has a book that he goes through that he knows what guys are going to throw on certain counts and he's looking for it," Sweeney said. "If they don't throw it, he's not going to swing at it."
The disciplined demeanor has benefitted Sweeney, who has more extra-base hits in 36 games in 2012 than he amassed during the entire 2011 season. On a few occasions, his line drives have fallen just inches short of home runs.
Despite the alterations, Sweeney's long ball count remains at zero. But Gonzalez isn't worried about that statistic, insisting the low power numbers aren't attributed to any mechanical problems or lack of talent.
"He's got the ability to hit home runs, but that would take away from his approach," Gonzalez said. "If he wanted to, he could go up there, try and hit home runs, but he would sacrifice average and on-base percentage. He could [hit homers] if he wanted to. He uses what he knows is best for him and he goes with it."
In addition to the hitting tips, Sweeney has also incorporated Gonzalez's yoga training into his regimen. With a four-time All-Star slugger at his disposal, the Red Sox outfielder is feeling more and more comfortable in Boston.
"I wouldn't say that I've completely figured it all out yet and obviously, you're learning everyday, but it's a good start to be able to have a guy like [Gonzalez] to be able to lean on," Sweeney said.
And now, the Red Sox are leaning on Sweeney.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP