Rookie has found success with neutral stance since becoming everyday outfielder
By Carlos Collazo
SAN DIEGO -- Like most clubs after the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Padres are a different team in August than they were in April.
During the first half of the season, the Padres were 18th in the Majors with 393 runs scored. So far in the second half of the season, they are ninth with 103 runs scored -- the fourth-best total in the National League entering play Monday.
Wil Myers and Ryan Schimpf have gotten much of the recognition for the improved offense, and rightfully so. The former won the National League Player of the Month Award after hitting a franchise-record 11 home runs in June, while the latter won the NL Rookie of the Month Award after hitting nine home runs in July -- a San Diego rookie record.
Still, the most important piece of the Padres' offense of late might be leadoff hitter Travis Jankowski, who has just one home run to his name this season. The 25-year-old outfielder was plunged into an everyday role when Jon Jay went on the disabled list with a right forearm fracture after getting hit by a pitch on June 19.
Since then, Jankowski has started 31 games for San Diego, and he's gotten on base at a .393 clip, with 19 stolen bases.
Over the weekend, Jankowski extended his career-high hitting streak to seven games, and he scored every time he reached base in Saturday's win vs. the Phillies.
"He's been outstanding," Padres manager Andy Green said after that display. "Loving what he's doing, loving the quality at-bats."
The past two series against the Brewers and the Phillies might be the best Jankowski has played this season, with the center fielder hitting .522 (12-for-23) with six stolen bases and 11 runs scored over six games.
Some of that success can be attributed to a mechanical adjustment that Padres hitting coach Alan Zinter recommended. Around two weeks ago, Jankowski adopted a more neutral stance in the batter's box, as opposed to the open stance he had been using prior.
"It was something for me from a visual standpoint," Jankowski said. "I could kind of see the pitcher a little bit better [with an open stance], but I got to a neutral position now, and I can see the ball just as well.
"It's pretty much just an adjustment to get me shorter to the ball. Just be more of a contact guy."
The difference is clear when you look at the two stances side by side:
This at-bat is from July 17, before he switched to the neutral stance.
The second is from an at-bat on Saturday, and it shows how much more compact and quick Jankowski is -- particularly with his lower half -- to the baseball.
"It took a little bit of time to get used to it, a couple days," Jankowski said. "But I've been doing a whole bunch of reps in the cage and in BP just to get the repetition back. So I feel really comfortable now."
Jankowski looks as comfortable as he has been all year in the batter's box, but he walks into the clubhouse every day as if he were still serving in the reserve outfield role in which he began the season.
"[I'm] kind of an even-keel, relaxed guy all the time," Jankowski said. "It allows me to never get too high or too low on myself. I take pride in not letting anyone know if I'm hitting .400 over the past 20 games or .100 over the past 20 games."
For Green, that sort of disposition shows that Jankowski has the ability to continue producing at the level that has made him the 14th-best position player so far in the second half, as well as the best defender in the game over the same period, according to Fangraphs' WAR (1.0) and defensive rating (3.7), respectively.
"My most pleasant surprise with him is you never know how someone is going to respond to adversity until they actually get there," Green said. "He's run through a few game stretches where he hasn't hit at all. And there's no change in his temperament.
"The guys that sulk, the guys that point -- this game eats them up. And he's got an even disposition every day. He's upbeat, he shows up every day ready to work."
The work seems to be paying off.
Carlos Collazo is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @CarlosACollazo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.