Mahtook rediscovering swing after time away

Rays' outfielder hoping to put early-season struggles behind

Mahtook rediscovering swing after time away

TORONTO -- Rays fans grew familiar with Mikie Mahtook last September when he experienced his best month in the Major Leagues, and easily the best September of any player on the Rays.

Mahtook, 26, had six different stints with the Rays in 2015, with his final callup to the team coming on Sept. 1. From that point on, the Louisiana native showed the skills that enticed the Rays to select him in the first round of the 2011 Draft.

Mahtook hit .356 in September, which was the second-highest average ever posted by a Rays rookie in a calendar month, trailing Rocco Baldelli in April 2003 (.368).

Included in Mahtook's September run were five home runs in his final 23 at-bats and on Sept. 18 against the Orioles, he set a Rays rookie record with five hits, going 5-for-5 with two doubles.

September "was the best I've ever felt as a professional," Mahtook said. "I've had some stretches in '14 in Triple-A, I felt good pretty much the entire year. But September last year was probably the hottest I've been and the most consistent my swing has felt."

Given Mahtook's body of work in September, many were surprised when he didn't leave Spring Training with the club. But when he finally did come up, he wasn't the same guy he'd been in September. He hit .048 in May and .205 in June.

On June 21, he was placed on the disabled list after fracturing his left hand. On Saturday, he came off the DL and he appears to be much improved. Mahtook went 4-for-10 with two walks and two RBIs in his first three games since coming off the DL, including an RBI single in Tuesday's 9-2 win over the Blue Jays.

"He looks now like he did in September," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "When he first came up the first time [in 2016], he'd gotten into a position with his body he wasn't comfortable with."

Mahtook's RBI double

Mahtook allowed, "I just feel good."

"It's one of those things where I feel good and I'm seeing the ball well," Mahtook said. "My timing is good and I'm just putting together competitive at-bats. I haven't really changed anything. When you go through a period of struggling, you try and figure out why you're struggling. You start to overthink things. And you get away from what made you successful."

Mahtook's case might be one in which the time away from playing actually helped.

"When I got hurt, I had that time off, you don't think about it because you have so much time before you start playing again," Mahtook said. "So I came back and I just told myself it basically was a new season. I wanted to come out here and play like I know I can. And I've been able to put some good at-bats together and I just feel comfortable.

"I don't know if [being injured] actually helped. I didn't have to think about anything. I was just trying to get healthy. I couldn't do anything to try and fix what I was trying to fix. When I came back, it just came back naturally. That's kind of the feeling you look for."

Shelton noted that Mahtook is "in a better spot now."

"He's closer now to where he was in September," Shelton said.

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