Overbay thriving in new cleanup role

Overbay thriving in new cleanup role

TORONTO -- Lyle Overbay laughed and looked downright baffled by the question. The Blue Jays first baseman has been enjoying a strong run at the plate, especially since being shifted into the cleanup spot, but a shrug is all he could offer when asked what the difference has been of late.

"I don't know," Overbay said with a smile.

Whatever has been working, the Blue Jays certainly hope it will last.

Over the past month, Overbay has been swinging the bat the way Toronto believed he could when the club inked him to a four-year extension after his strong 2006 campaign. Since signing that contract, Overbay has been searching for the swing he flashed so consistently that season.

Lately, Overbay has felt like he has come close to rediscovering the form he displayed three years ago. Combine that with the chance to step into the fourth spot of Toronto's lineup, and the first baseman is admittedly having more fun at the ballpark these days.

"I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity there," said Overbay, referring to being moved to the cleanup spot. "It's an opportunity I've been waiting for and, hopefully, I'm just taking the opportunity and going with it. I'm just getting some pitches to hit and doing what I'm supposed to do with them."

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston decided to move the left-handed Overbay into the No. 4 spot in the order -- primarily against right-handed pitching -- after Toronto traded Scott Rolen to Cincinnati on July 31. The cleanup role had been handed to Rolen midway through June and the third baseman thrived in the heart of the lineup.

As the fourth hitter for Toronto, Rolen hit .319 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 34 games before being sent to the Reds at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Overbay has enjoyed similar results, posting a .364 (12-for-33) average with three home runs, seven RBIs, eight runs scored and 10 walks since taking over cleanup duties on Aug. 1.

Overbay's 0-for-4 showing on Sunday marked the first time this month he did not reach base in a game.

"I don't know. It seems to be something that must be in the water," Gaston said with a laugh. "When I put Rolen there, he started to hit the ball, too. Overbay's starting to do that. It's good to see. When he stays aggressive, he's a good hitter."

Overbay said he has tried to avoid changing his mindset simply because he is in a different spot in the order.

"You don't want to," Overbay said. "You're going to get caught up in it a little bit and sometimes you'll put pressure on yourself when you don't need to. It's just a matter of getting the job done when the opportunity kind of presents itself."

Overbay's recent success at the plate has not been limited to his time in the middle of the order, though. Dating back to July 10, the first baseman has hit at a .320 clip with four homers, nine RBIs, 16 runs scored and 17 walks in a 25-game span. During that period, Overbay has lifted his average to .267 from .249 and his on-base percentage to .389 from .369.

Asked about Gaston's interpretation, Overbay said it is not necessarily all about being aggressive. The first baseman indicated that he has somewhat altered his approach at the plate after breaking down film of his at-bats in 2006, when he hit .312 with 22 homers, 46 doubles and 92 RBIs in his first season with the Blue Jays.

Overbay said the key has been attacking outside pitches better than he has over the past two seasons.

"I've kind of changed my approach," he said, "going back to '06 and not worrying too much about getting jammed or whatever. My approach was looking middle in and it just seemed like that outside pitch was a foot off the plate when it was hitting the plate and I wouldn't really offer at it.

"I think I've gotten back to that situation where I'm covering the whole plate and that goes farther as far as confidence more than anything for me."

Multiple times, Overbay repeated that he was just trying to take advantage of the opportunity he's being given by Gaston. Asked if he was referring to receiving more playing time or batting cleanup, Overbay said it was a combination of the two.

"Everything: playing, being put in an RBI spot," Overbay said. "I know on this team, we're going to get RBI situations no matter where you're at, but I just want to be able to take advantage of that and show them that I'm capable."

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