ST. LOUIS - Cameron Rupp stopped into Pete Mackanin's office near the end of last season for a final meeting before the team departed for the offseason.
The two talked about Rupp's performance and what each hoped to see this season. The Phillies manager brought up Rupp's swing. Mackanin told the catcher to alter its path. A new swing would make him a better hitter, the manager hoped.
Rupp took the advice home to Texas and worked through the winter with Chris Edelstein, the hitting instructor he has paired with since before high school. Rupp reported to spring training with a fine-tuned swing, which the catcher believes is helping him combine with Carlos Ruiz for what has been a surprisingly strong catching tandem.
Rupp and Ruiz rank third among major-league catchers with a combined .296 batting average. The pair ranks second in slugging percentage (.520), fourth in hits (29), and fourth in OPS (.857). The two finished last season ranked near the bottom of baseball in each of those categories. The catching position was a burden. This season, it has started as a source of production.
Rupp entered Tuesday with 10 hits in his last 34 at-bats. He had hit a double for five of his last seven hits. He started the season slowly, but his new approach seems to be finding traction.
"Rupp looks better at the plate, he looks like he has a better chance to hit," Mackanin said. "How far that's going to go? We'll find out. But he looks better at the plate than he did last year."
Rupp's aim is to keep his swing down toward the ball. Instead of swinging underneath a pitch, Rupp wants to stay on top of the ball. He has already noticed this season that he can find pitches that he was helpless against last season. His home run - which he hit on April 15 - was a high fastball. Rupp said he would have whiffed on the borderline strike last season.
"It was a minor adjustment that I think is going to help me a lot more down the road," Rupp said.
Mackanin said a hitter often approaches a new swing just like a golfer who just paid for lessons. If the new swing - which may feel unnatural - does not immediately work, the hitter will be tempted to revert to old habits. Mackanin said he gives Rupp a lot of credit for staying the course. It is not easy.
"It doesn't matter if I'm catching once a week or every day. Everybody wants to get off to a good start," Rupp said. "To have the start that we had is huge. [Ruiz is] hitting the ball really well and I've had some productive at-bats and driven some runs in. For us to provide that is huge because sometimes you don't see that out of catchers."
Adam Morgan (0-0, 5.40 ERA) will face righthander Mike Leake (0-3, 5.83) on Wednesday night. Morgan faced the Cardinals last season in his major-league debut. He allowed one run in 52/3 innings. . . . A.J. Puk, whom the Phillies could select in June with the No. 1 pick, struck out 29 batters in his last 172/3 innings. The stretch comes after the University of Florida lefthander left a start with back spasms. He appears to have recovered.