Except for the occasional annoying wake-up call at 2:30 a.m. to board a flight for a road trip, Scott Brosius has relished most of his first season as the Tacoma Rainiers’ hitting coach.
And apparently his players like having him around, too.
One thing Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto emphasized when Brosius was hired a year ago,was that the organization’s hitters needed to do a better job of controlling the strike zone.
A large part of that was increasing walks and decreasing strikeouts.
Well, Brosius’ hitters in Triple-A Tacoma did just that this season. The Rainiers’ 943 strikeouts were the fewest in the Pacific Coast League — and lowest franchise total since 2003 (859).
Tacoma’s 17.1 percent strikeout rate was the lowest in more than a decade.
“One of the big keys in that has been our two-strike approach, and owning the strike zone,” Brosius said. “It might not lead to certain things, but when you have a handle on the zone, you are going to have a much better chance to be successful.”
Throughout the course of the season, 29 professional hitters have been in Tacoma. Brosius has worked with all of them.
He admits he is not overly analytical with mechanics, noting that “there are a lot of guys with great mechanics who do not have an approach (to hitting), so it doesn’t matter.”
The foundation of Brosius’ hitting — and now coaching — philosophy came from when he was coming up through the minor leagues as a player.
One of Brosius’ hitting coaches was Merv Rettenmund, a former major league outfielder for 13 seasons. Rettenmund’s emphasis was on making sure his batters properly loaded their weight and had a very rhythmic swing through the hitting zone.
“If you watch every good hitter, you don’t see anything rushed about their swing. Nothing is herky-jerky,” said Brosius, who spent 11 seasons with Oakland and the New York Yankees (1991-2001), and was part of three World Series title-winning teams. “That idea of loading early, and being easy with the hands is the one principle I have held on to, regardless of what the mechanics are.”
Keeping it simple certainly helped catcher Mike Zunino turn his career around.
Zunino finished last season in Seattle hitting .174 with 132 strikeouts in 378 at-bats. He was sent down to the minors late last year and was expected to be with the Rainiers again most of this season.
“No question he needed to clear some of the voices in his head ... and get back to who he is,” Brosius said.
Brosius said his work with Zunino happened in three distinct stages: Settle on one simple hitting philosophy, clean up some of his swing mechanics and really work on pitch recognition.
“We took more of a mental approach to our pregame work,” Brosius said. “It did not need to be all physical.”
In the 79 games before his late-June promotion, Zunino hit .286 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs. He struck out 69 times, but he also walked 35 times, pushing his on-base percentage to .376.
“Mike is a talented player,” Brosius said. “Sometimes you just need to be told that, too.”
Then there is the progress that Stefen Romero made, turning himself into a PCL player of the year candidate.
Rainiers manager Pat Listach said for years, pitchers knew how to get Romero consistently out by throwing low and away with a slider.
“A lot of the stuff we do in the (batting) cages ... isn’t mechanical,” Brosius said. “It is learning to evaluate, and learning what pitches we can damage.”
Now 27 years old, Romero ranked among the PCL’s top 10 in batting average (.304), extra-base hits (51), total bases (226), home runs (21), RBIs (85) and slugging percentage (.541).
Also, he struck out just 67 times in 418 at-bats.
“Usually guys don’t improve on those numbers when they get older,” Listach said. “But he did.”
Even 30-year-old center fielder Daniel Robertson is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. His .297 batting average is his best mark since 2012. And his OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentage) is .768, his highest mark as a regular in the minors since it was .793 in Single-A ball in 2010.
“A lot can be said about someone who is willing to take the time to make sure you go from wherever you are, to where you can get better,” Robertson said. “And he has just as much energy as you do. He loves seeing the progress his players make.
“For me, (this season’s success) has been off my ability to identify off-speed pitches. Once you start hitting those, it raises your ability to get back to the fastball and hit that.”
As far as continuing hia career as a hitting coach, Brosius said nothing happened this season “to scare me off.”
“It has been a fast grind — there are no days off,” Brosius said. “But one day you look up, and it’s June. And you look up again, and it’s July.
“I didn’t come into this as a one-year deal, and obviously for me to come back, it has to be a two-way street — they have to feel good about what I am doing. I love it here. In terms of the job description, it is pretty fun. ... When your job is to come to the baseball field, that isn’t so bad.”
TACOMA RAINIERS (81-62) vs. EL PASO CHIHUAHUAS (73-70)
Game 1: Wednesday at El Paso, 5:35 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday at El Paso, 5:35 p.m.
Game 3: Friday at Tacoma, 7:05 p.m.
Game 4 (if necessary): Saturday at Tacoma, 7:05 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday at Tacoma, 1:35 p.m.
Season series record: Tacoma went 3-0-1 in the four series, and won 12 of the 17 games played. The last time the two teams met was Aug. 3-6 in El Paso where the Rainiers won three of four games.
Batting leaders: Tacoma — 1B/DH Stefen Romero (.304 BA, 21 HR, 85 RBI), 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach (.292 BA, 23 HR, 96 RBI) and CF Daniel Robertson (.287 BA, six HR, 46 RBI, 13 SB). El Paso — RF Hunter Renfroe (.306 BA, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 95 runs), 2B Carlos Asuaje (.321 BA, nine HR, 69 RBI, 98 runs) and CF Manuel Margot (.304 BA, 98 runs, 30 SB)
Pitching matchups: Wednesday — RHP Jarrett Grube (1-4, 3.62 ERA) vs. LHP Frank Garces (6-8, 4.41 ERA). Thursday — RHP Cody Martin (10-7, 3.62) vs. RHP Walker Lockett (1-2, 4.50). Friday — LHP Wade Le Blanc (0-0. 0.00) vs. RHP Bryan Rodriguez (4-8, 5.11). Saturday — RHP Joe Wieland (14-6, 5.43) vs. RHP Dimelson Lamet (0-2, 4.24). Sunday — RHP Sam Gaviglio (3-2, 3.71) vs. TBA.
Outlook: Rainiers manager Pat Listach has said it all along, if you are going to beat El Paso — the PCL’s top hitting squad (.295 team average) — you are going to have to score runs. And the Rainiers have, tallying 83 runs in their 12 head-to-head victories. But in their final 25 games, Tacoma has averaged just 3.8 runs per game (12-13 record), which is a concern. Oh yeah, the Rainiers get to face off against old buddy Patrick Kivlehan, who was sent down by the San Diego Padres on Aug. 27, and is on the Chihuahua’s playoff roster.
TNT pick: Rainiers in five games.
Todd Milles: firstname.lastname@example.org