TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ask any veteran player, and he’ll tell you the ability to adapt is the key to a lengthy and productive major league career. The pitchers, advance scouting reports and game-planning in the big leagues are unrelenting, and hitters who fail to come to grips with that reality won’t be collecting big league meal money very long.
Mark Trumbo of the Angels knows the drill. Last year he hit .307 with a .988 OPS, 27 homers and 66 RBIs in the team’s first 85 games. He made his first All-Star Game at age 26, participated in the Home Run Derby and earned a reputation as a hitter that pitchers had to approach with the utmost care.
Then everything unraveled. The final 2½ months of the regular season, Trumbo hit .213 with a .551 OPS, five homers and 29 RBIs. There were times when he felt as if he had tread marks stamped across his forehead.
Trumbo is a bright kid, and he spent enough time reflecting on the experience to glean something positive from it. In the midst of his travails, he learned some valuable things about his mechanics, his approach to hitting and his ability to take a punch.
“I understand this is a very tough game," Trumbo said. “I had some mechanical things break down, and the pitchers don’t get any better than here. At the big-league level, they’re able to locate for the most part. If they do find a glaring weakness or something you’re really struggling with, they’re probably going to attack that and keep attacking it until you can prove you’ve made some adjustments.
“I think the biggest thing is to get a good pitch to hit. It’s a lot easier to make good solid contact when you get something to work with. Last year I started to chase a little bit, and the combination of a tough pitch to hit with a bad swing is a recipe for disaster."
Trumbo, recharged from a winter of introspection, is ready to reclaim his status as a force in manager Mike Scioscia’s batting order. Just where he appears in the field will depend on the day.
When Josh Hamilton signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels in December, it ensured that Trumbo will spend a lot more time in the designated hitter spot this season. He can also expect to spell Albert Pujols at first base, fill in for Hamilton in right on occasion and log some games in left.
Trumbo is a .306 hitter with a .937 OPS in 23 career games at DH, so he’s shown some aptitude for the position. But he knows he’ll have to experiment with ways to stay engaged and ready during the lengthy down time between at-bats.
It’s early yet, but Trumbo expects to spend more time riding a stationary bike and hitting in the cage working up a sweat than hunkering down in the video room obsessing over his last at-bat. He also plans to spend a lot of time in the dugout to keep his head in the game.
“I’m trying to get away from overanalyzing things, especially on video." Trumbo said. “I would like to get back to trusting what I feel up there and doing it that way. If I do DH, the temptation of sitting in that film room is going to be really high. I’m going to do everything I can to fight that."