Meulens hopes to ignite Giants offense
New hitting coach seeing early results with positive approach
PHOENIX -- It's often said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. So Hensley Meulens strives to ease the pressure.As the Giants' new hitting coach, Meulens repeats many truths that his counterparts and predecessors have preached. Stay balanced. Get those hands going. Wait for a good pitch to hit. Meulens, however, has made an impression with attitude alone -- an upbeat one. By trying to keep the hitters focused on successes instead of shortcomings and clean swings rather than ugly hacks, Meulens hopes that the constant reinforcement will help the Giants improve at the plate. "The guys know that they're failing 70 percent of the time and they're still pretty good," Meulens said Wednesday, making a familiar reference to those who hit .300. "Those guys know what failing is. I don't necessarily want to dwell on the negative part of things too often because they know they failed. What I try to do is see how I can make the positive things last." Ideally, with this outlook, a hot streak would continue and a slump would end before it begins. In reality, this kind of nirvana is unattainable. All the Giants really want from Meulens is to help them score more runs. They ranked 13th among National League teams in that category last season, almost nullifying their outstanding pitching. Though Spring Training results are often meaningless, the Giants' offense has shown hints of improvement under Meulens, who gained the nickname "Bam Bam" as a player. San Francisco entered Wednesday having scored 91 runs, second in the Cactus League to Arizona's 98. The Giants proceeded to maintain that pace against the Oakland A's, rapping 11 hits in a 6-1 victory. For good measure, the Giants began Wednesday ranked fifth in the Cactus League with a .282 average. And though they stood 10th among the desert's 15 teams with 47 walks -- a mostly foreign concept to the Giants in recent years -- that figure was only 10 behind Milwaukee's Cactus-high total.
2010 Spring Training - San Francisco Giants
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
Whether Meulens' influence has as much of an impact as the arrivals of Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, the Giants' primary offseason acquisitions, remains to be seen. But thus far, multiple hitters have responded to his message.Meulens urged catcher Bengie Molina, a habitual first-ball hitter, to exercise more patience at the plate. Molina has complied and is batting .375. "For all my career, I've been very aggressive," Molina said. "But, yes, I want to work on taking some more pitches. The more pitches you see, the better you should be. Hopefully it works." Center fielder Aaron Rowand has admitted that his .266 batting average in two seasons as a Giant is underwhelming. Meulens studied videos of Rowand's three previous seasons -- as he did with each Giants hitter -- and scrutinized still photographs. Rowand now stands more upright and has eliminated a hitch in his swing. He's batting .500. "So far, so good," Rowand said. "Spring's not over yet. I'll try to work on it and be consistent." Said Meulens of Rowand's lofty average, "I know it's not going to stay like that all year, but it's encouraging to see his adjustments work right away." Nate Schierholtz, the projected everyday right fielder, lifted his spring average to .308 with a seventh-inning, ground-rule RBI double against the A's. Schierholtz, one of several hitters Meulens visited during the offseason for hands-on tutelage, appreciates his new coach's approach. "He makes you feel good about yourself when you swing the bat well, or even when you don't," said Schierholtz, who was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico when Meulens came calling. Catcher Eli Whiteside, who has encountered numerous hitting coaches in 10 professional seasons, paid Meulens a high compliment. "He's one of the best hitting coaches I've ever worked with -- or the best hitting coach I've ever worked with," Whiteside said on a Gcast interview. "[It's] not just his knowledge of hitting, just the way he's able to communicate with a player and take certain drills that work for me. He's able to work with each player in a different way." Or, as Molina said of Meulens, "The thing I like about him is that he doesn't try to change you. He works with what you have." A .220 hitter in parts of seven Major League seasons with the Yankees, Expos and D-backs, Meulens tries to boost a hitter's productivity by maximizing his assets instead of spending hours upon hours on attempting to fix his flaws. "We work hard on their strengths so when the [pitch] is in their strength, they're not missing it," said Meulens, who replaced Carney Lansford. "Their weakness is always going to be their weakness. We work a little bit on it because it's what we do. But our strength is what we concentrate a whole lot on."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.