Venable rewarded for sticking with swing
After successful 2012, Padres outfielder resists urge to make mechanical tweaks
PEORIA, Ariz. -- After several springs of searching for a workable, repeatable and, ultimately, a successful setup as a hitter, Will Venable decided last spring to let someone else take a crack at it.
The Padres' right fielder entrusted first-year hitting coach Phil Plantier with the job and then proceeded to hang on to his every word and suggestion, even if it occasionally meant keeping his own ego in check.
"Phil says it best ... if I can just stay out of my way, I'll be all right," Venable said.
The results speak for themselves, as the 30-year-old Venable had his best season as the left-handed part of a right-field platoon with the right-handed-hitting Chris Denorfia. They combined for the eighth-highest on-base plus slugging percentage (.802) among Major League right fielders.
"We like it," manager Bud Black said of the platoon. "We feel good about it in a lot of ways. ... There's some pop, some average, good defense. We expect production, and they expect production."
Venable reached career bests in hits (110), games (148), doubles (26), triples (eight), runs (62) and at-bats (417) while also hitting nine home runs, knocking in 45 runs to go with 24 stolen bases.
Venable posted a .270/.339/.440 line in 352 at-bats against right-handed pitching. He also had eight of his nine home runs against righties.
To get there, Venable worked closely with Plantier and assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell last spring, eliminating the double toe tap with the front foot in his stride, which previously had given him fits. He also was able to quiet his bat while in his stance instead of anxiously waving it back and forth.
In addition to mechanical fixes, Venable had to change his way of thinking, too. He had to ditch negative thoughts and the want to change at the first sign of adversity.
Once he was able to do so last spring, Venable carried his new approach and mindset into the regular season. He couldn't have been happier with the results.
"It was the first time he stayed with a real sound approach, both mentally and with his stance," Black said. "I think that's a sign of confidence in his ability and trust in what he, Phil and Alonzo worked on."
"I think you'll see the same stance this year. There are always adjustments going on, but nothing will be as drastic as you've seen in previous years."
And that comes as a great relief to Venable, who previously used six weeks of Spring Training -- and well into the regular season -- searching for something that worked for him. There were plenty of stops and starts, false hope and, of course, frustration.
"You want to feel good, so you make some adjustments," Venable said. "But sometimes those adjustments might work that day, but in the long run they take you further away from where you want to be.
"I'm trying to build on the improvements I made with the swing last year and not changing a whole lot. I want to continue to be natural and let my ability take over and stay out of the way as far as tinkering with too much mechanical stuff."
When this information is relayed to Plantier, a wide smile washes over his face. Few things are quite as satisfying as seeing the results of hard work in the cage and long talks translate into success in games.
"That's a great thing. No more chasing your tail ... that's what we call it," Plantier said. "Know what you do, what your work routine is, remove the clutter and trust it. Then when the game comes, get a good pitch and trust your work.
"Will is doing a great job of that."