We have this discussion in the office: How big of a deal is strength in hitting? Not necessarily about how far you hit the ball, but a lot of times muscle can be a huge thing in regard to squaring up on an inside pitch and muscling a hit that way.
“Actual muscle isn’t a factor. It’s more about quickness. They say ‘muscle it out,’ but it’s more about being quick enough to bring your hands inside. When you have to muscle something, you’re either late or the ball’s in off the plate, so you have to bring your hands in and kind of just hope for the best. It’s still a good strategy to always stay inside the ball. And strength, having quick bat speed, also helps. Strength leads to . . . if you get jammed, the ball’s not going to trickle off. You’ll probably hit a blooper over the infield, or even farther.”
You’ve hit some absolute bombs, but have also been somewhat nagged by strikeouts (166 in 2011, 143 in 2012). Do those numbers bother you, or is it something that comes with the territory of being a power hitter?
“They bug me, I hate striking out, but at the same time I’m much better at letting them go, rather than earlier in my career worrying about it so much before the next at-bat against the guy. You grow as you play, and every year I work to cut them down. I hate it, but a popout is the same as a strikeout. It’s a matter of productive at-bats, a matter of how you do it. If there’s a runner on third with less than two outs, I clearly do not want to strike out.”
...Being a slugger today, there is so much focus and suspicion on someone being big . . . it’s like an automatic red flag to discussing the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. Do you feel that at all, the suspicion?
“It’s not like my body has changed since I’ve played in high school, beyond being more mature. It’s not like my power has changed, either. I’m not worried about it, and I’m not worried about what anyone says, either. I haven’t heard anything said about me like that.”
Now MLB will be testing for Human Growth Hormone. How do you feel about the state of where the game is in rooting out this obvious problem?
“I’m OK with it. It’s going to crack down on who’s not going by the rules, and hopefully clean it completely with this step. Coming up as a kid, we watched that era go. It was fun to watch, but not at all good for kids to grow up and want to be like those guys. Even for players who have the ability to challenge for a spot on a team clean, battling against guys who are cheating. I’m glad they’re doing this.”