Andre Dawson knows what Giancarlo Stanton is going through.
He knows what it feels like to be the only source of power on a losing team, the big bat other teams intentionally try to avoid and pitch around. He knows it can be frustrating and lonely.
But if Stanton is going to break out of his early-season slump (he’s 5 for 30 with no RBI and no homers through his first nine games), Dawson said the 23-year old All-Star right fielder will have to change his approach a little bit.
“Mike has taken some good pitches for a called strike three. He’s taken good pitches to hit,” said Dawson, a Hall of Famer and Marlins’ front office assistant who played on 15 losing teams during his 21-year career and once managed to win the Most Valuable Player Award with the last-place Chicago Cubs in 1987.
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“For me personally, I was little bit of a different hitter. They like to crowd Mike with the fastball, whereas I wanted the ball in on me. So I got on top of the plate. I’m trying to get him to understand that you have to be protective of a certain part of the plate, not cover the whole plate. It’s going to be impossible to do that if they’re not going to give you anything to hit. So, you try to take their strength away. You try and adjust what their strength is, and hopefully when you do that you make them readjust.”
Dawson, hitting coach Tino Martinez and manager Mike Redmond have all been preaching patience at the plate, telling Stanton to wait for his pitch or take the walk if that’s what the other team is going to give him.
So far, Stanton has listened. He has drawn eight walks (tied for second in the National League). He’s also tied for third in the National League in strikeouts with a dozen (three of them looking). He drew a total of 46 walks last season in 123 games.
The Marlins, meanwhile, have scored an MLB-low 16 runs and been shut out four times en route to a 1-8 start. If they get shut out Friday at home against the Phillies they would become the first major-league team to get shut out five times in its first 10 games.
Redmond, who saw Stanton break out of an 0-for-11 skid in his last at-bat Wednesday with a soft single to center, said the Marlins desperately need their young slugger to figure things out quickly. But Redmond also understands it isn’t easy being as young as Stanton is. He still only has 382 big-league games under his belt.
“Barry Bonds was a guy who had four at-bats a night and not swing at a pitch,” Redmond said. “They would throw a heater down the middle, and he would hit a home run.
“At the end of this year [Stanton is] going to be a way better hitter than he was at the beginning of this year because he’s going to really learn the strike zone and what he can and can’t hit. Ultimately he’s going to be a better player for it.”
Stanton said ideally he would have preferred to have a few more years under his belt and be “a better, complete hitter” to deal with the challenge he’s facing. But, he says, he’s “just got to step on the gas now.”
“Now, it’s either crunch time or you’re going to go backwards,” Stanton said.
And he doesn’t want to go backwards.
“He is [young to be dealing with this],” Dawson said. “You are in maybe your second, third full year in pro ball and just when you think you’re starting to get your feet underneath you, you’re grasping what they’re doing to you, their approach to you, how you’ve got to react, then bam out of nowhere it’s ‘You’re not going to beat us.’ ”
But if anyone on the Marlins can do it, Dawson said, Stanton can. Dawson points to how Stanton hit .299 with 18 homers and 36 RBI over his final 43 games after returning from knee surgery. His only protection then, Dawson points out, was a 36-year old Carlos Lee.
“And he wasn’t like a legitimate guy who could hurt you,” Dawson said. “The key for Mike all season is going to be remembering he can’t let his mind play tricks on him. ‘Am I going to get something to hit today? Are they going to pitch around me?’ That can’t enter his mind at all. He just has to come ready to play every day and not miss his pitches because he’s not going to get many at all.”