Bucs' Rodriguez showing solid plate approach

Bucs' Rodriguez showing solid plate approach

PHOENIX -- On Sunday, Sean Rodriguez crushed a 442-foot home run on to the fourth level of the left-field rotunda at PNC Park. He launched a 458-foot shot to left-center Friday at Chase Field. On Saturday, in a 7-1 Pirates loss to the D-backs, Rodriguez went deep again. 

When Rodriguez goes deep, his swing catches your attention. The more impressive part of Rodriguez's hot start this season, however, comes when he doesn't swing the bat at all.

Late last season, Rodriguez set out to find a more consistent, selective offensive approach. He worked in the batting cages with hitting coach Jeff Branson and assistant Jeff Livesey. He wanted better results, and he needed better at-bats to get them.

"Trying to fine-tune some things and figure out what's going to be most consistent for me, whether it's coming off the bench, spot starting, whatever it's going to be," Rodriguez said.

He seems to have found it this year. Rodriguez reached safely in 12 of his first 20 plate appearances. He entered Saturday having driven in eight runs while going 6-for-14 and -- perhaps most significantly -- he'd drawn more walks (six) than strikeouts (three).

"That's always satisfying in any situation, definitely," Rodriguez said.

The Pirates' superutility man entered play Saturday with more free passes than he earned in 240 plate appearances last season. Rodriguez struck out in 26.3 percent of his plate appearances last season; entering Saturday, that number was down to 15 percent.

Among players with at least 240 plate appearances last season, only 14 swung and missed more often than Rodriguez. His whiff rate was 15.6 percent, the highest it's been as a full-time Major League player.

Rodriguez couldn't single out a particular change, but he's clearly been more selective this season. Prior to Saturday, his swing-and-miss rate was down to 7.4 percent, albeit in a small sample, and his overall swing percentage was down 22 percent (from 54.1 to 32.1 percent).

Last season, Rodriguez primarily served as a late-inning defensive replacement at first base and hit .246/.281/.362 with four home runs. He re-signed with the Pirates this offseason, both sides believing they could get more out of Rodriguez on defense -- as a true superutility man -- and at the plate.

"He's talked about there being more bat. I felt there was more bat. So we needed to come up with a game plan to address how we find more bat, better at-bats," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The swing-and-miss was alarming. He's another good, honest self-evaluator that acknowledged all those things. He goes, 'I can do better.'"

So far, he has done better.

"Sean's at-bats have been clean. They've been aggressive. He's had good looks," Hurdle said. "The walks are the biggest change, for me. It's been fun to watch, and it's something I do believe he's got every intention of following through with."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.