A's confident in Butler's ability to bounce back

Tweaks in mechanics give slugger hope that 2015 was an aberration

A's confident in Butler's ability to bounce back

MESA, Ariz. -- Oakland's new-look lineup is richly deep, perhaps more so than any other group Bob Melvin has managed, and there are many reasons to believe it could be a strength of the club this year.

Billy Butler wants to be one of them, and he's doing everything he can to make good on his bounce-back candidacy.

"I think he's on a mission to get back to where he expects himself to be," Melvin said.

Butler's first season with the A's was largely a bust. The high-priced designated hitter didn't produce the way a $30 million man should, driving in just 65 runs and hitting a career-low .251, 20 points below his previous worst in 2014. Now the pressure is on for the soon-to-be 30-year-old.

Yet it's also been alleviated some, arguably, with Butler expected to begin the season batting lower in the lineup. The cleanup hitter much of last season, Butler is likely to hit sixth or seventh against right-handed pitching and a touch higher when facing lefties.

"We're a little longer with the lineup now," Melvin said. "He could hit his way back up into the middle again, and here recently, we've seen better at-bats. He's trying to use his legs a little bit more. On the low pitch, it gets him down a little bit better, and in theory it'll keep him off the ground and more in the air."

Butler grounded into 26 double plays last year, tied for second most in the Majors, and the adjustments he's incorporated into his swing to fix such issues extend to his hands.

"Hitting is a tough thing, and the littlest things can make the biggest difference," Butler said. "I've made my swing a little shorter, and I've just changed my hands angle and refocused on where I need to be at when the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. When you feel like your hands are really fast, you're going to be confident.

"It's something I used to do that I didn't know I wasn't doing anymore. You can watch all the video in the world and sometimes it's just the smallest thing. Sometimes it's getting your hands in a certain slot, and you want to keep the elbow close to you, and my elbow was kind of coming around."

Butler on A's culture

Butler took notice of these bad habits during batting practice, unintentional tics in his mechanics that were having an adverse effect on his swing.

A concerted effort to correct these problems has led to a .342 average this spring entering Thursday.

"I started doing drills and stuff like that and I was just like, 'Oh, that felt right. That felt like where it needed to be,'" Butler said.

Even when Butler has been absent from exhibition lineups, Melvin said the slugger has repeatedly requested to get more at-bats on the Minor League side to continue work he hopes translates into regular-season success.

"For a veteran guy like him who's had a lot of success, to have what was probably a down year for him," Melvin said, "you've got some added incentive, especially being with a new team last year, to come out this year and prove to everybody that he's the guy we signed for a reason."

And a guy who is still capable of cleanup duties.

"He's even spoken to me about it," Melvin said. "He's told me, 'I plan on hitting higher.'"

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.