Tuesday July 29, 2014

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Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer getting results for first-place Toronto Blue Jays


Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer (right) talks to player Brett Lawrie before he hits in Toronto, April 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

TORONTO - Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer usually stands right behind the cage during batting practice while the players take their cuts.

From time to time, he'll move over to the side and will weigh in with a quick tip or two.

It's a comfortable approach that has paid dividends for the American League East division leaders, who boast an offence that is among the best in Major League Baseball.

"I think he's hands on when he needs to and he sits back and he watches when he needs to too," said Blue Jays catcher Erik Kratz. "We have a lot of good hitters here and with good hitters comes success and some streakiness.

"He does a good job of limiting the bad streaks and extending the good streaks."

The team's offensive statistics over the first two months of the campaign have been eye-opening.

Entering Wednesday's games, the Blue Jays led the major leagues in home runs (83) and were second in runs scored (296), RBIs (281), slugging percentage (.451), hits (534) and OPS (on-base plus slugging .784). Toronto was also tied for second in on-base percentage (.333) and sat fifth in team batting average (.264).

Seitzer keeps a close eye on all the numbers but values some statistical categories more than others.

"Runs scored is the one I'm most concerned about," he said. "If you're scoring runs, whether you do it by home runs, situational hitting, you've got to be able to get on base, draw walks, be able to move runners and get big hits when guys are in scoring position.

"It kind of encompasses everything really."

The 52-year-old native of Springfield, Ill., was hired by the Blue Jays last fall after spending parts of five seasons as a hitting coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals. He succeeded Chad Mottola, who spent one year in the position.

Seitzer, a two-time all-star as a player, had a .295 career average over 12 seasons with the Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians.

As a coach, he has preached the importance of preparation and making hard, consistent contact in the box.

"Have an idea of what the pitcher has got and what he's going to try to do, and then what each guy needs to do in order to have the best chance to succeed," he said of his approach. "I like to keep things simple. I don't like it complicated, they don't want it complicated.

"They've made really good adjustments so far."

The power portion of the Toronto lineup has delivered so far with sluggers Edwin Encarnacion (.272 average, 19 homers, 50 RBIs) and Jose Bautista (.310, 14 homers, 41 RBIs) on pace for big seasons.

Among the other notable performances, first baseman Adam Lind is batting .347 while Melky Cabrera has a .303 average. Juan Francisco is hitting .276 with nine homers and 24 RBIs in just 36 games.

As for that important runs scored category, three Toronto players are in the top 15 in the major leagues: Bautista (44 - tied for fourth), Encarnacion (41 - tied for seventh) and Cabrera (37 - tied for 14th).

Those numbers are a big reason why Toronto took a 35-24 record the second-best mark in the American League into Wednesday's game at Detroit. It's a big step up from this time last year, when the Blue Jays were last in the East at 24-34.

"It's been phenomenal," Seitzer said of the team's effort. "If you're in first place after the first third, then the second third and the third one, then you're right where you need to be. So I couldn't ask for more right now."

The 2013 Blue Jays posted decent offensive numbers despite their poor 74-88 record. The team was ninth in runs scored (712), fourth in homers (185), 11th in RBIs (669), eighth in slugging percentage (.411) and 15th in batting average (.252).

While Seitzer deserves his share of the credit for the improvement, he's quick to praise the players for their professional approach and effort.

He has been very impressed with what he's seen so far.

"Probably the most (impressive thing) is the talent level and then secondly, their work ethic and preparation going in," he said. "When you have that combination and the ability to make adjustments along the way, you've got a chance to do some damage every night. They've been doing great."

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.


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