The motion was quick, reflexive, a nearly imperceptible flick of the bat. For most of his career, Robbie Grossman had a habit that had become ingrained, albeit one so subtle, you probably wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it: The instant a pitcher went into his motion, Grossman would flash the barrel of his bat over his helmet and in front of his head.
That minuscule trigger is gone now. And the reason, Grossman says, has more to do with the sport he plays than the way he hits.
“I stopped doing that about a month and a half ago. I needed more time to see the ball,” Grossman said. “Everybody is throwing 100 [miles per hour] now, and I had to do something to improve my chances.”
He’s getting results, and perhaps the missing bat-flick has something to do with it. Whatever the reason, Grossman, batting only .219 on May 30, hit .290 from then until the All-Star break, including .395 in July. It’s all part of the give-and-take of baseball, Grossman says, the never-ending tinkering to keep up with the game.
That process has become much more difficult in the past couple of years, he said. But the Twins provide more tools than ever before to help him keep up. Still, though Grossman is only 28 and hasn’t yet played 500 major league games, he feels like he has already lived through a revolution.
“From when I broke into the majors in 2013, it’s a completely different game. Completely different. It’s pretty wild to see, actually,” Grossman said. “I mean, I don’t know how much harder guys can throw.”
Or how many more 100-mph pitchers can populate the game. Grossman said he likes listening to old-timers talk about the game, and many reminisce about the fastballs they faced, from Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan.
“But it’s hard to believe they had teams rolling out guys every night that you’ve never heard of, throwing 98, 99. And this spin-rate [emphasis], it’s a real thing,” Grossman said. “It’s crazy now that guys don’t pitch to contact anymore. They just try to strike you out. They say, ‘I’m going to hit this spot that you’re not good at hitting, up in the zone with high velo, and if I miss there four times, I’m going to walk you.’ They don’t care. That’s where the game is at.”
It’s not a complaint, Grossman said, just reality that he has to cope with.
“To me, that’s the fun part,” he said, “figuring out the chess match and trying to beat what they’re trying to do.”
Most recently that was by stripping every possible twitch and tremble from his swing in order to catch up with four-seamers that bite.
He spends more time than ever studying data and watching tape, too.
“At least we have some sense of what is really going on,” Grossman said of MLB’s StatCast system, which precisely measures every pitch, swing and motion on the field. “The scouting reports are so good now. All that extra information, on spin rate and launch angle — thank goodness we have it, because you can actually see it in action on the field.”
Mostly, it has produced harder-throwing pitchers and extreme shifts.
“The quality and quantity of pitching out there right now, it’s never been seen in the game. Look at our pitchers — we have relievers at Triple-A who throw 96, 98. We have starters like [Fernando] Romero, who throws 97 mph every game, every inning,” Grossman marveled. “It’s amazing how much the game has changed. It’s not like I’ve been around forever, but I wouldn’t have recognized this when I came up.”
That’s why he’s glad that the Twins, and manager Paul Molitor, stuck with him while he searched for an adjustment to his swing; as a switch hitter, it had to work from both sides of the plate, too.
“He works tirelessly at his swing. He thinks he can help us win, and I can’t argue with that,” Molitor said. “I just hoped that, with the guy’s record, it was decent enough, that even with a slow start, he’d find ways to get going.”
The trade deadline is nine days away, and most AL Central teams are shopping expendable veterans. Here’s a look at who’s available:
Indians: A team that added Andrew Miller in 2016 and Jay Bruce last year made another big midseason splash on Thursday, adding two-time All-Star lefthanded reliever Brad Hand, plus righty Adam Cimber from San Diego. The Indians gave up their top prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia, but the deal addresses Cleveland’s biggest weakness.
Royals: Kelvin Herrera was their most marketable asset remaining, and they wisely dealt him to Washington for two prospects in June. With their teardown nearly complete, GM Dayton Moore now intends to find a new home for Mike Moustakas, the slugging third baseman who returned to Kansas City on a one-year contract in March.
Tigers: They have reportedly received inquiries already for ex-Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano, who has postseason experience as both a starter or reliever. The big decision, though, might be whether they listen to offers for Nicholas Castellanos (pictured above), a 26-year-old outfielder who is enjoying his best season (.304, 15 homers entering Saturday).
White Sox: Few teams are as unlikely to make a deal as Chicago, which has already put the core of a future contender, White Sox officials believe, on the field. They have some spare parts they could give up, retooled closer Joakim Soria chief among them, or perhaps even outfielder Avisail Garcia, a 2017 All-Star.
Brian Dozier entered Saturday needing only seven RBI to become the Twins’ all-time RBI leader at second base.
Career RBI, Twins second basemen
460: Rod Carew (1100 games)
453: Brian Dozier (850)
388: Chuck Knoblauch (992)
177: Luis Rivas (530)
162: Bernie Allen (440)
• • •
Eddie Rosario’s aggressive approach has produced 117 hits at the All-Star break, 45 of them for extra bases, but it comes with a side effect: popups. He already has more pop-fly outs in his four-year career (105) than Joe Mauer does in his 15 seasons (98), and the left fielder is among the MLB leaders this season. Most popouts, entering 2018 All-Star break
38: Yangervis Solarte, Tor
38: Mike Moustakas, KC
37: Odubel Herrera, Phi
35: Eddie Rosario, Min
35: Kevin Pillar, Tor
Baseball reporters Phil Miller and La Velle E. Neal III will alternate weeks