McLouth can see path to spring success
With newly clear vision, center fielder's waiting to break out
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nate McLouth's vision problems are a thing of the past, but the Braves center fielder's contact lenses have not exactly helped him produce the kind of contact that he would have liked during the early portion of Spring Training.
While going hitless and striking out two more times during Saturday afternoon's 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, McLouth found himself still waiting for that moment when he starts to feel comfortable from an offensive perspective.
"Even in Spring Training, you want to get hits, but you have to know it's going to come and you don't just forget how to hit," McLouth said. "It comes the more and more I play in Spring Training. For some people, it's a week after seeing live pitching; for me, it's just after that one or two [at-bats] -- I just feel it and I'm locked in."
Projected to serve as the Braves' leadoff hitter this year, McLouth has recorded just one hit in his first 19 at-bats this spring. More alarming is the fact that he recorded eight of his outs via strikeouts.
Braves manager Bobby Cox has said that he is leaning toward beginning the year with McLouth as his leadoff hitter, and he certainly isn't going to completely alter this mindset this early in camp. But it appears Cox would like his center fielder to start being more aggressive at the plate.
"I thought he saw the ball much better today," Cox said on Saturday. "He aired out the swing much better, instead of trying to read every pitch."
Unbeknownst to McLouth at the time, some of the inconsistencies he experienced at the plate last year were a product of the fact that he was having trouble seeing, especially during night games.
In the 181 plate appearances McLouth compiled during day games in 2009, he hit .295 with seven homers and an .871 OPS. During the 410 plate appearances he tallied at night, he hit .239 with 13 homers and a .751 OPS.
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After experiencing trouble seeing road signs while driving home to Michigan at the conclusion of the 2009 season, McLouth had his vision checked and learned that, for the first time, he needed corrective lenses.
During Tuesday night's game against the Phillies, McLouth could see a definite improvement, as he was able to see much more clearly, whether at the plate or while manning center field. Of course, the fact that he tallied his first two at-bats against Roy Halladay didn't help his batting average or strikeout total, which increased by two during those two plate appearances.
"Everything is just clear now," McLouth said. "I know the results aren't showing it yet. I can't blame it on that, that's for sure, because my vision has been good. It's been great."
As the Braves contemplate whether it would be better to utilize somebody like Martin Prado in the leadoff spot, they will continue to evaluate McLouth with the hope that he quickly finds the form that he possessed with the Pirates in 2008, when he hit .276 and struck out 93 times in 597 at-bats.
The early results of this year's Spring Training can be deemed more troublesome when you account for the fact that in 90 fewer combined at-bats with the Pirates and Braves last year, McLouth struck out six more times (99) than he had the previous season.
"For me personally at the plate, it's just an [at-bat] or two where I'm like, 'OK, I feel it,'" McLouth said. "It just clicks all of the sudden. Sometimes it's my fifth [at-bat] and sometimes it's my 30th [at-bat], but sooner or later during Spring Training, it does click in."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.