There are times when Shane Victorino appears to have ingested one too many Pixy Stix, bringing to the clubhouse the type of hyperkinetic energy typically found on your average schoolyard playground.He speaks at the same helter-skelter pace with which he roams the basepaths, and he strides to the plate to the beat of a Bob Marley song.
So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that part of the challenge of molding him into a solid two-hole hitter has been harnessing that desire to go, go, go.
"If he's a patient hitter and he works the count, he can get fastballs to hit," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "And he's a good fastball hitter."
Over the past couple of weeks, Victorino seems to be exhibiting that patience with more regularity. His batting average has risen more than 60 points since May 15, from .227 to .291 after getting three hits last night. In the last 14 games, he has struck out just once in 62 plate appearances. During that span, he is hitting .415 (22-for-53) with a .500 on-base percentage (31-for-62).
Not surprisingly, he has been converting those extra trips on base into steals (six in the last 14 games) and runs (15 in the last 14 games).
"I think that right now, I want to get on base - not so much that I need to go out there and get a hit every night," Victorino said.
The ironic part, according to those who study hitting for a living, is that the mentality Victorino speaks of actually leads to more hits. The way they tell it, the key to successful hitting is discipline, the ability to ignore an OK pitch for a better one. In a game in which pitchers are born with the odds in their favor, selectivity breeds success at the plate.
"I say it all the time," hitting coach Milt Thompson said. "You get three strikes over the course of your at-bat. The first two belong to you. So get a pitch you want to hit."
When Victorino has struggled this season, Manuel said it has boiled down to discipline. To illustrate his point, he pointed to Victorino's counterpart at the top of the lineup.
Jimmy Rollins isn't necessarily a patient hitter - he averages just 3.45 pitches per plate appearance, 124th out of 140 NL hitters with at least 100 plate appearances - but he is disciplined. Before last night, Rollins had struck out just 10 times in 121 at-bats, the best ratio among all National League leadoff hitters. Of his 39 hits this season, 17 had come after taking the first pitch for a ball.
"You can't hit every pitch," Rollins said. "Some pitches are meant for you to swing and miss. Those are the pitches you try not to swing at. The pitches I can handle the best are the pitches I try to continuously attack and put a good swing on. It's going to take eight line drives to hopefully get three hits. You might get a bloop in there too, but you are going to hit eight line drives and hopefully three of them will fall."
That wasn't always the case.
Five years ago, in 2003, he averaged just 0.48 walks per strikeout, ranking him 10th out of 20 National League players with at least 200 at-bats at the leadoff spot. This year, he is averaging 0.90 walks per strikeout.
"Not only has he learned his hitting, but he's learned how to work the count and look for good balls to hit," Manuel said. "And I think Victorino is still in the process of learning that."
Which, to a degree, should be expected. Though Victorino is just 2 years younger than Rollins in terms of age, he is much younger in terms of playing experience. In Rollins' third full season as a regular contributor, he hit .263 with a .320 on base percentage and struck out once ever 5.56 at-bats.
Victorino's numbers in his third year as a key contributor are actually better: entering last night, a .279 batting average, .347 on base percentage, and 9.63 at-bats per strikeout.
Rollins, who credits former Phillie and current Yankee Bobby Abreu with helping him learn the art of hitting, seems to improve every year. The Phillies are hoping Victorino will do the same.
"In about 2 years," Thompson said, "he'll really have it."