Souza finds slugging success by choking up

Souza finds slugging success by choking up

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nothing seemed to be going the Rays' way after three innings Saturday afternoon.

Steven Souza Jr. would change all of that with one swing of the bat.

The Rays had just surrendered two runs in the bottom of the third, an inning that saw shortstop Brad Miller boot a ball that allowed leadoff hitter Byron Buxton to reach and two stolen bases against Rays catcher Hank Conger. So the vibe wasn't a positive one.

But Logan Morrison singled with one out in the top of the fourth and Steve Pearce followed suit before Corey Dickerson hit into a forceout to bring Souza to the plate with two outs.

The Rays' slugger is always a power threat, but he entered the game without having homered since May 20 against the Tigers.

Souza got ahead 2-0 in the count against Ervin Santana, then watched strike one before fouling off strike two to even the count at 2-2.

On the fifth pitch, Santana delivered an 82-mph slider. Souza swung and made solid contact, depositing his 10th home run of the season into the second deck at Target Field to give the Rays a 4-3 lead. According to Statcast™, the exit speed on the blast that traveled 405 feet was 108 mph. The Rays went on to win, 7-4.

"That was big, huge," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Loved the way that he kind of shortened up there with two strikes. I know he got a pitch there that was more of a mistake, but we need to capitalize on those mistakes, and he did."

Souza actually choked up on his bat in the two-strike situation.

"Obviously, I haven't gotten some calls my way," Souza said. "And I've chased some pitches out of the zone. I've been trying to figure out a way to make adjustments with two strikes, so I figured I'd choke up right there and try and put the ball in play, and a good thing happened."

A reporter marveled out loud about how far the ball went for choking up. Souza smiled at the comment.

"Barry Bonds choked up, he hit some balls pretty far," Souza said. "I don't think choking up has anything to do with it, but it gives me a little more bat control."

Souza believes his home run drought was self-inflicted by him trying to "do too much in certain situations."

"Sometimes I don't think I trust my ability to just put the bat on the ball," Souza said. "Try maybe to hit it a little too far. And when that happens, I kind of foul some pitches off instead of capitalizing on the mistakes, and he made one today and I didn't try to do too much and a good thing happened."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.