JUPITER, Fla. -- It was one swing, one early spring homer, but for Matt Adams, Thursday's two-run blast against the Mets was a tangible payoff to a winter's worth of work.
Following a season in which he did not go deep off a left-hander or connect for an opposite-field home run, Adams accomplished both with a two-run shot to left off Josh Smoker. It was the sort of result Adams had envisioned back home in central Pennsylvania this offseason as he assessed the next needed step in his career.
Adams may be dueling with Brandon Moss for first-base playing time, but Adams is, as much as anything, fighting against his own old tendencies to win another everyday opportunity.
"I just need to drive the ball better," Adams said. "I think that and the ability to lay off that left-handed slider is going to help me, big time. Staying in my base will help me be able to recognize that, for sure, and that will also help me be able to drive the ball better to the left side, too. I think staying within myself and not trying to do too much."
The left quad injury that limited Adams to 60 games last season cost him the certainty of coming into Spring Training as the favorite for a starting job. He is coming off a year in which he hit .240/.280/.377 with five homers, nine doubles and 24 RBIs. His OPS+ of 77 was a sharp decline from that which he posted in 2013 (129) and 2014 (116).
"I know I can be a better player than that," Adams said. "I was just getting to that point where everything was clicking right when the injury happened. But I think everything happens for a reason, and I came out of that a better player and a better teammate."
What was starting to click, Adams clarified, was his timing and pitch recognition. Too often fooled by a left-hander's offspeed pitches, Adams identified the issue just prior to the injury and then continued the work to correct it during the offseason.
That work involved keeping his weight on his back foot longer -- "staying in my base," as Adams described it -- so that he could see the pitch longer before committing to a swing. Boosting his production off lefties, against whom he has a .197/.230/.317 slash line and 71 strikeouts in 218 career at-bats, is a must if Adams hopes to emerge an everyday player again.
"He's still a young player," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think right now he's in as good as a spot as he's ever been. Physically, he's in a good spot; but I think even more so, mentally and how he feels about himself and his swing is right where we need him to be."
Staying back on pitches longer could also help Adams better foil the defensive shifts opponents often deploy against him. Compared to the 50 balls he pulled last season and the 68 he hit up the middle, Adams put just 16 balls in play to the opposite field. When he did, though, he was successful in getting on. He hit .500 on balls hit to left.
In Friday's 4-3 win against the Braves, he foiled a shift by laying a bunt down the third-base line.
It's all a part of Adams' efforts to show himself improved in his approach and ready for another crack at everyday at-bats.
"Whether it's part of the starting eight or whether it's off the bench, he's a force," Matheny said. "Last year was just a frustrating year for him altogether. He's grown from it and learned from it, and I think he's a better player because of it and has learned from it."