ST. LOUIS – There have been times lately when Martin Prado has gone to the plate feeling as if the opposing team had eight too many defenders on the field.
The Braves left fielder is struggling mightily, and he doesn’t hide the fact it’s eating at him. He’s hit .220 with one homer and a .273 on-base percentage in 150 at-bats during his past 36 games.
“People think that it’s easy,” he said quietly Sunday morning. “It’s not easy. It’s hard to go to sleep like that. It’s hard.”
After a breakout performance last year, when the former utility infielder made the All-Star team as a second baseman in his first full season as a lineup regular, Prado has had a rough go of it in 2011.
He’s hit .261 with 25 doubles, 11 homers and a .307 on-base percentage in 114 games, after hitting .307 with 40 doubles, 15 homers and a .350 OBP in 140 games in 2010.
In his past 17 games, Prado has a .179 average with just two extra-base hits and two RBIs in 67 at-bats. He got a rest Sunday and Eric Hinske started in left field for the series finale against St. Louis.
“He’ll really struggled,” said Braves hitting coach Larry Parrish, who cited reasons both physical and mental for Prado’s slump.
The flaw in his swing, according to Parrish, has been a tendency to get the top hand too involved, to snap it up and forward too quickly, resulting in a load of groundouts.
As for the mental side, Parrish said Prado, a notoriously hard worker and perfectionist, has focused too intensely on trying to break out of his slump. He’s gone to bat with too much on his mind.
“A lot of times, when you go through a streak where you don’t get hits, and you’re used to getting hits, all of a sudden instead of thinking if I stay with my swing and just put together good at-bats, hits will come, you start trying to get hits,” Parrish said.
“He started walking to the plate and picking out a hole, almost predetermining where he was going to hit the ball before a pitch was made. He’s made up his mind that he’s going to hit the ball over there and they throw a pitch inside, he’s tied up. Instead of reacting and being an athlete.”
Parrish said he’s told Prado just to go up and “let it go” with his swing, hit the ball hard and not worry about where.
“He’s got bat speed, an athletic body, fast hands,” Parrish said. “The problem is, those fast hands are working against him now. He just sort of shortened everything up and he’s trying to get hits, and he’s so short that this [top] hand here is coming over and making him hit a ton of ground balls.
“The more you don’t get hits, the more you try to get hits.”
A broken finger that slowed Prado at midseason in 2010 was nothing compared to the staph infection in his right calf that sidelined him nearly six weeks this season in June and July.
Prado has hit .243 with a .613 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) and three homers in 53 games since returning from that ordeal, after hitting .277 with a .762 OPS and eight homers in 61 games before it.
But he’s never used that as an excuse.
“There’s some days that I feel good and pick [the ball] up good, and hit it hard but right at somebody,” he said. “Every time that happens, I go back to my negative, where I feel like there’s, like, 17 guys playing defense.”