There was little Reid Brignac didn’t like about his time with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The winning, of course, was a gas.
The camaraderie — playing with a “band of brothers,” as he put it — has provided lasting memories.
And playing for manager Joe Maddon was a pleasure.
“I really enjoyed playing for Joe,” Brignac said. “I really enjoyed the way he managed and handled the clubhouse.”
But Brignac, who is trying to win a bench spot on the Marlins as a backup infielder and outfielder, has one regret from his days with the Rays. He wishes he had never relented to Maddon’s request to change his swing shortly into the 2011 season.
That decision, he said, led to consequences that have taken years to correct.
“It might have set me back a couple of years,” Brignac said after going 3 for 4 with three RBI on Monday. “It was just that 2011 year, they didn’t like the way I was swinging the bat and wanted to make a change, and I never got back from that.”
Brignac paused before adding: “Until now.”
Brignac, who added two more hits in the Marlins’ 7-4 victory over the Mets on Wednesday, thinks he finally has found a good swing. If he proves it this spring, the Marlins will have a tough choice to make when they make their final decisions on the two bench spots that remain open.
The sky was the limit for Brignac at one point. He was named the California League MVP in 2006 after hitting .326 with 21 homers and 83 RBI, and was on nearly the same career trajectory within the Rays’ farm system as Evan Longoria.
And it appeared that his gaudy minor-league numbers weren’t a fluke when he provided the Rays with steady play at shortstop in 2010 while hitting .256 with eight homers.
But after getting off to a slow start in ’11, Brignac said he was asked to alter his hitting stance, lowering his hands and spreading his feet. Brignac never got a feel for the new stance and his offensive numbers suffered.
He finished with a .193 average in 2011, followed by an .095 figure in limited at-bats in 2012.
“I struggled with the bat for about two or three years,” he said. “So there was a long period of me trying to find my swing again. I had to move on and not go back to 2007 and find that swing, because that swing wasn’t there anymore.”
Brignac never found his old stroke.
But he invented a new one, one he thinks has put him back on track at the plate. He met with positive results last season with the Phillies.
“I got some confidence back swinging the bat, had a couple of walkoff [hits], a couple of go-ahead hits late in the game,” he said.
When he became a free agent after the season, the Marlins expressed interest.
“I had five or six teams on the table at the time, and me and my agent both felt here would be the best opportunity to make a team out of spring training,” he said. “As a free agent, those are things you want to hear.”
Brignac’s glove has never been a question. He’s a slick fielder, capable of playing multiple positions. That aspect of his game has never been a concern of the Marlins or anyone else. It’s his bat.
And now Brignac thinks he’s got it back.
“Last year was a big step forward,” he said. “It’s different than it’s ever been. But it’s different in a good way.”