After watching the Braves score 55 runs on 78 hits in the last eight games, there is a tendency to jump to rash conclusions, like: 1) How did Greg Walker get away from Mensa and; 2) Is Larry Parrish giving out the wrong change on the New Jersey turnpike?
So just a little perspective: It won’t always be this good. But Walker, the Braves’ new hitting coach by way of the Chicago White Sox, clearly has made an impression on players and it’s showing up in the numbers.
So I figured I would spend this morning’s blog on Walker. Let’s call it, the TalkBlog. What follows are nothing but comments from Walker and several players, gathered after Wednesday’s 14-6 win over the New York Mets.
First, from Walker, who spent almost his entire playing career with the White Sox and later served as their hitting coach for nine seasons:
(on connecting with players) “When I left Chicago I was pretty mentally beat up. I had been there for nine years, and probably overstayed my welcome there. My last two years had kind of beat me down and I didn’t like the way I had gone about my business. So I was going to take a year off. But some people called me and said this organization from top to bottom has some really good people and you’ll fit right in with them and they’ve got a really good young team too. As soon as I started coming up here in the winter, they made me feel comfortable.”
(on his philosophy) “I just look at each player individually and how their swing works. There’s a lot of different ways to go about hitting. You’re trying to figure out what makes a guy good, and when it’s going bad what you can do to correct it. But the longer I do this job, the more I understand it’s about the mindset of a team. You want guys to go out and compete every day and these guys have got it in them. They’re competitors, they pull for each other, they are a team. So anything that has to do with playing team baseball is going to be a no-brainer. So now you just start looking at ways to be effective. … I’m just a small piece of the puzzle. What I do is minuscule compared to the players. There’s a lot of failure in this game and that’s one thing I’ve never forgotten is how hard it is to play. … Over the years I’ve tried to learn about mechanics as much as I could. I’ve gone all over the country talking to people, trying to steal stuff so I can help and do some small part.”
Now, some players. Understand that none of them are openly going to throw the former hitting coach, Parrish, under the bus. But it’s clear from their comments that they like the change to Walker and assistant Scott Fletcher.
• Freddie Freeman, who’s off to a slow start but went 2-for-4 Wednesday: “He’s awesome. He lets you be yourself and then he’ll throw in a little bit of himself. The main focus is us. He’s always there for us. He’s always there in the cage. He’s always wanting to do something extra. He always has time for you. That’s what you want in a hitting coach.”
• Jason Heyward (.341 avg., .610 slugging, 2 HRs, 6 RBI): “They’re players coaches. Whatever we need, whatever we feel, it’s for us. Whether it’s talking hitting, talking baseball, talking life in general. It’s friendship. If we need them to be more technical, they’re there for you. But a lot of times when you get to the game, you’re battling and you don’t get into the mechanics too much. They’re there helping with your confidence.”
• Chipper Jones: “They’re both very hands on. Very mechanically inclined. They’re sticklers for mechanics. I think all of the guys will tell you they’ve made good observations, they’ve made good suggestions. They’re good communicators — they’ll tell you how to fix [problems], and that’s the most important thing for a hitting coach. … [Feeling a connection] is important. Having a guy who you feel like you can sit down and talk to and have a conversation about hitting is big. A hitting coach’s communication skills are important. One’s a little more mechanical, the other is a little more visual. It’s good to have both.”
• Brian McCann: “Both of those guys are a hitter’s dream. They understand the game. They understand how hard it is. They understand we need a game plans. … I think everybody has felt a connection with both of them. They cover all sides of being a hitting coach. They give you great scouting reports. They’re available every single day to work. They’re there with extra time if you need it. They’re a great duo.”
• Dan Uggla: “Greg has been great. Fletch has been great. I think our mentality as a team, which Greg has helped us with, is being aggressive but having controlled aggressiveness. If you’re just aggressive and up there hacking at the first pitch, you’re going out of your zone and putting yourself in a hole. But if you’re aggressive on your pitch, it lets you see the ball better, recognize pitches, and that’s what these guys have done.”
Twelve games down. Only 150 to go.
By Jeff Schultz