FORT MYERS, Fla. – Miguel Sano swears he was never trying to intimidate pitchers with the way he wielded his bat as he waited for a pitch. Yes, his hands were high, sometimes above the bill of his helmet. And yes, he waggled his bat back and forth, as if emphasizing the danger the weapon posed.
“I wasn’t trying to scare them,” Sano said. “It’s just how I hit.”
He’s got a new way to hit now, and while the adjustment isn’t a huge one, he hopes it does put a little fear into pitchers — because of how effective it is.
“It’s working really good,” Sano said. “I think it will be better this year.”
That’s an acknowledgment that 2016 wasn’t the season Sano had hoped for, and not just because of his two stints on the disabled list. He hit only .236, his on-base percentage fell to .319 and he set a new Twins franchise record for strikeouts with 178 in only 116 games. To restore his potency at the plate, Sano tinkered with his mechanics. But it wasn’t until he got home to the Dominican Republic that he found what he hopes was the answer.
It came from former major leaguer Fernando Tatis, who hit 113 home runs over 11 major league seasons. Tatis, whose son Fernando Jr. is a top prospect in the Padres organization, watched Sano take batting practice and made a suggestion.
“He said hands up high takes me too much time to [get in position to] swing,” Sano explained, demonstrating the extra motion required to trigger his swing. “Put my hands lower, and it’s just one move. Faster.”
The result, according to Sano? “If I put [my hands] lower, I have more time. I can see the ball more,” he said. “I start them down, see the pitch, and boom.”
Boom is indeed the goal. And while reducing the amount of movement necessary to get his bat cocked only produces a split-second more time to see the ball, his new Twins hitting coach, James Rowson, says that millisecond is more significant that it might seem.
“Even a split-second, with the speed of his hands, can really make a difference,” Rowson said. “If he gets a better look at the ball, he’s going to make better decisions. It can really help.”
Besides, Rowson said, Sano seems more comfortable with the adjustment. His hands are shoulder-high at most, and at times he’ll drop them even lower.
“The goal is making good contact, so we start from there. Put your focus on the contact, and then so whatever you need to do to get to that point,” Rowson said. “We sort of work the problem backward. The more focus we put on what comes before the swing takes away from what we need to do to get that contact. It’s not me telling him, ‘Hey, move your hands,’ it’s more me saying, ‘Let’s find a good place to hit and let your mechanics flow naturally.’ ”
Sano admits he might tinker with his swing a little too much at times, so he likes Rowson’s do-what-works approach.
“Hands up high, I learned that a long time ago,” Sano said. “But this feels good. I think this works.”