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Tipsheet: Arozarena kept evolving as hitter while O'Neill, Bader stalled

Tipsheet: Arozarena kept evolving as hitter while O'Neill, Bader stalled

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Back in 2018, outfielder Randy Arozarena was buried in the pile of Cardinals outfield prospects.

He hit .232 at Triple-A Memphis and spent time at Double-A Springfield building more confidence.  

Harrison Bader was in the big leagues hitting .264 that season. Tyler O’Neill (.311, 26 homers in 238 at bats), Oscar Mercado (.285, 31 stolen bases), Lane Thomas (.818 OPS) and Adolis Garcia (.256, 25 doubles, 22 homers) all outperformed Arozarena on the loaded Memphis roster.

But it’s a funny thing about hitters. Either they keep evolving as hitters or they don’t. Either they make the adjustment to hitting big league pitching or they don’t.

Arozarena has done that during his limited time in the majors thus far while Bader and O’Neill are struggling to establish themselves as everyday players for the Cardinals.

Mercado looked like an emerging star for the Cleveland Indians last season while hitting .269 with 25 doubles, 15 homers and 15 stolen bases. But he slipped this year while hitting .128 in 86 at bats.

Thomas flunked his brief trial with the Cardinals this season and Garcia is still awaiting his chance to prove that his raw power can translate to major success. He was hitless in six at bats for the Texas Rangers this season.

Arozarena appears to be figuring it out. He gained more power by layering on 15 pounds of muscle this year and he matured as a hitter while facing advanced pitching.

“Even when he makes an out, you can tell that there was a plan,” Rays hitting instructor Chad Mottola told MLB.com. “He just spoils some pitches trying to get to the mistake, and some of them haven’t even been mistakes. That’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like there’s some longevity to this and he’s a player we’re lucky to have.”

Arozarena can turn on high-velocity fastballs all day and all night, so now he is seeing lots of off-speed stuff.

"They're throwing him a heavy dose of breaking balls. He's going to get one here eventually," Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters. "He's going to get timed up and see it. We saw him make those adjustments against New York and Houston, and he's going to do it again here, too.

"I'm impressed -- we're all impressed -- with what Randy's plate discipline has been. He's still making good decisions at the plate, which is very encouraging for a young player."

Here is what folks are writing about the World Series:

Sam Miller, ESPN.com: “Tampa Bay got through three playoff rounds behind good pitching and Randy Arozarena, but every inning seemed to start with slumping Rays hitters making two quick outs. [Brandon] Lowe, their best regular-season hitter/worst postseason hitter, broke out with two homers in Game 2. [Joey] Wendle, in a similar slide, hit one oppo-rocket for a sac fly and pulled a double so hard that Mookie Betts took a bad route to it. Austin Meadows and Yandy Diaz each hit his hardest ball this postseason in Game 2, and Manuel Margot is showing that he might have actually turned into a star sometime in mid-August. The Kershaws and Buehlers of the world might still shut this lineup down, but the Rays should scare the rest of the Dodgers' staff.”

Gabe Lacques, USA Today: “In the off-season, the club jettisoned stalwart starters like Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-jin Ryu, and traded useful swingman Ross Stripling midseason. All reasonable moves: The Dodgers couldn’t have known a pandemic would wreak havoc on the season and that projected No. 3 starter David Price would exercise his right to opt out of it. They placed some faith in young starters Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, and May was more than serviceable, throwing as many as 88 pitches in a game, producing a 2.09 ERA as a starter and 1.09 overall WHIP. Yet, come playoff time, the Dodgers envisioned a different assignment for May: Put out fires. Attack the opposition’s most potent batters, regardless of inning. Relinquish the role of traditional starter in service of covering perceived deficiencies in the Dodgers bullpen. It’s a fine idea in a best-of-three or best-of-five series, and the Dodgers went 5-0 in steamrolling the Brewers in the wild-card round and Padres in the NL Division Series to reach the NL Championship Series. But in the best-of-seven format, the Dodgers, unsurprisingly, have been a starting arm or two short. They fought gallantly out of a 3-1 hole against the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, but at the expense of putting May and Gonsolin in compromising positions. Gonsolin had not pitched in two weeks when he was summoned to start after [Clayton] Kershaw suffered back spasms before Game 2. May, meanwhile, saw his viability out of the bullpen diminish with each outing.”

Mike Oz, Yahoo! Sports: “After getting knocked around a bit in Game 1, the Rays bullpen returned triumphantly in Game 2. On paper, they are the better bullpen, they just needed to pitch like it. We saw it Wednesday night. Even though they got a strong start from Blake Snell, when he started to crumble, the bullpen was there to pick up the pieces. Nick Anderson, Aaron Loup and Peter Fairbanks all pitched well in relief. The Dodgers bullpen still has question marks, starting with their biggest name, Kenley Jansen, Alex Wood and Jake McGee pitched well in Game 2, but consistency hasn’t been this unit’s forte as a whole. After a lot of exertion in NLCS Game 7 and Wednesday’s Game 2, they need those starters to come through and provide some breathing room.”

Zach Kram, The Ringer: “The Rays’ bullpen isn’t nearly as regimented as other successful bullpen chains, like the Reds’ Nasty Boys or the Royals’ HDH trio. Cash doesn’t have a ‘6-2-1’ plan like that employed by the mid-’90s Yankees, in which the starter would throw six innings, then-setup man Mariano Rivera would bridge two innings to the ninth, and closer John Wetteland would handle the rest. But what the Rays relievers lack in specific structure they more than compensate for with depth and flexibility, as players ranging from the rookie Fairbanks to the veteran Loup contributed key outs in Game 2. No bullpen was more valuable than the Rays’ in the regular season, and Cash can finally double down on using his best relievers in the World Series—the first playoff round in 2020 to include off days. With no game on Thursday, the top three Rays relievers will all be rested for Game 3, and with Cash reluctant to use them when the opposition has a lead, they’ll remain fresh when needed to secure victories throughout the series.”

David Schoenfield, ESPN.com: “The dirty little secret for the Rays is that Anderson hasn't actually been that good in the postseason. He has now been scored on in five straight appearances and in six of his eight games in the playoffs. After averaging 14.3 K's per nine innings in his limited action in the regular season, he has only eight in 13 postseason innings. Anyway, let's go with this: Ride Charlie Morton. Given Anderson's struggles, it's important that Morton shuts down the Dodgers in Game 3 ... and then again in Game 7 if the series goes the distance. Morton is riding a streak of five straight postseason starts dating to 2019 where he has given up one earned run or fewer (including his past two). His longest outing in this stretch has been just 5⅔ innings, but if he gives up one run in five innings, the Rays will be in a great position.”

MEGAPHONE

“I don't care if I'm hitting .010. If I can help the team with my defense or my energy, then I'm OK with that. Because it's not about me. It's about winning. You don't win a championship because of one player. You win it as a team, and if I can help out in trying to find a way to keep the energy and the clubhouse loose, then I'm going to do anything I can to try and help the team.”

Rays shortstop Willy Adames.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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