David Ortiz did far more than shake hands and snap photos when he visited Boston Red Sox spring training at the end of February and beginning of March. And we’re currently seeing his work manifest itself in Mookie Betts’ fast start to the 2018 Major League Baseball season.
Betts leads the majors in average (.432) and ranks third in on-base percentage (.533), slugging percentage (.730) and OPS (1.263) after going 4-for-4 with a grand slam, two doubles, a walk and five runs scored Tuesday night in the Red Sox’s 14-1 win over the New York Yankees. His success largely can be attributed to an adjustment in his offensive approach, but the Red Sox right fielder also is benefiting from improved mechanics thanks to some help from Ortiz.
Betts regressed a bit in 2017 after finishing second in American League MVP voting in 2016. Ortiz noticed some differences in Betts’ swing, and the Red Sox legend conveyed that to his former teammate down in Fort Myers, Fla., before the 2018 season.
“The main person that helped me with (correcting my stride) was Ortiz. He’s actually the No. 1 person who helped with that,” Betts said, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “He came in, sat me down, and it was kind of like overnight, I think.”
Basically, Betts’ stride drifted last season, forcing his stance to become too open at the point of contact. This hindered Betts’ ability to drive the baseball with maximum force, diminishing the advantage he has over most major league hitters by virtue of his elite hand-eye coordination.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora and hitting coach Tim Hyers, who previously worked with Betts as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator, also deserve some credit for the two-time All-Star’s improved mechanics this season. But Hyers knows the weight of Ortiz’s feedback. Big Papi was a clubhouse leader until his retirement in 2016, and he evidently still serves as a mentor when needed.
“If David Ortiz can share his knowledge with these guys, it’s something that goes a long ways,” Hyers told Speier. “He’s so knowledgeable about the feel, the game-planning, reading pitchers, and also mechanics. When he’s around and talks to them, it only helps them out.
“I think David was like, ‘Hey, when you were going good, this is what I remember — this is what you were doing really well.’ I think Mookie said, ‘Oh, yeah — I’ll put that at the top of the list.'”
Leave it to Ortiz to make an impact two seasons after hanging up the spikes.
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