SEATTLE — That ego, check it.
That swing, relearn how to do that.
That baseball career, it’s over if you don’t change.
When the season ended and Gordon Beckham could relax from the grind of professional baseball, those were some of the things he told himself as he prepared for a much different offseason than he’d experienced before.
“I knew if I didn’t make a change — and really make a wholesale change — that at some point it was going to end for me,” said Beckham, the Seattle Mariners’ second baseman who is a former eighth overall draft pick out of the University of Georgia.
“I might have been able to continue playing but I didn’t want to keep playing the way I was playing … playing poor and not being confident in what I’m doing at the plate. And when you’re not confident, especially when the best fail seven out of 10 times — it’s over.”
Fast-forward to a few months later. Beckham had broken his swing down, built the muscle memory to execute a new swing path and he was hitting balls as his father-in-law, Scott Fletcher, pitched from behind a screen.
“You understand how good that swing is?” Fletcher told him.
Beckham re-signed with the Mariners this offseason on a minor league contract. The Mariners selected him from Triple-A Tacoma on May 14, adding him to their 40-man and active rosters when Robinson Cano fractured his finger on a hit-by-pitch. Beckham was nearing the opt-out date in his contract, meaning he could have become a free agent had he not been on the big-league club.
The next day, Cano was hit with an 80-game drug suspension, meaning Beckham’s place with the Mariners seemed more permanent as a replacement at second base.
Mariners manager Scott Servais had raved about how Beckham looked in spring training, saying the 31-year-old was one of the tougher cuts they had to make heading into the season. He not only hit .340 in 19 games, but his swing looked much improved, mechanically.
However, Beckham’s time with the Mariners could be nearing an end with Dee Gordon moving from center field back to his former Gold Glove position at second base. Gordon is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Thursday.
The Mariners’ philosophy has been to keep eight relievers in the bullpen, meaning the bet to make way for Gordon is between Beckham and utility player Andrew Romine, who is extra valuable with a short bench for his ability to play every position.
Beckham had a slow start with the Mariners, getting two hits in his first 15 plate appearances (.133) after that solid spring and a .300 batting average (27-for-90) in 25 games with Triple-A Tacoma.
“The worst I felt all year is about when I got called up,” Beckham said. “You get back to the big leagues and I want to do great things and I kind of got geeked up a little bit and my effort level was too high.”
Entering Wednesday he had hit in four of his past six games and was feeling the effects of his swing change.
“He’s looked a little better,” Servais said. “I thought when he first came up he was pressing and he wanted it to happen to quick. He’s looked better the past few days and I still see the same guy I saw in spring training.”
Regardless, Beckham said he feels in a much better place than at the end of last season, when he finished an 11-game stint with the Mariners by batting .176.
Beckham said he knew he couldn’t rely on his athleticism alone anymore. He’s a former state-champion high school quarterback and later led the University of Georgia to the College World Series. Georgia’s team MVP award is now called the Gordon Beckham MVP Award.
“I knew I had to do something drastic to make sure I could go out and be good and have a good swing — a competitive swing,” Beckham said.
People recommended various swing doctors and he’d listened to plenty before, but everything in himself told him to listen to one man.
He and Brittany Fletcher are coming up on their fifth wedding anniversary. Her father is Scott Fletcher, the 15-year big league middle infielder who is now a hitting coordinator with the Detroit Tigers. So Beckham knew he could trust Fletcher to not only help him mechanically but mentally.
They spent 3-4 days per week for 2-3 hours at a time of nonstop hitting this offseason, Beckham said.
“I had multiple people say, ‘Hey, do you want to work with this guy? I know a guy you can work with …’ I said no. I wanted to listen to one voice,” Beckham said.
“I went to Scott and I said, ‘I know you’ve played a long time in the big leagues, I’ve played a while in the big leagues — but I want you to treat me as if I’ve never swung a bat in my life. I want to relearn everything about the swing and what I want to do at the plate.’ He just took that in stride. It was a check-your-ego-at-the-door moment, but I just hadn’t done very well and I knew I needed to redo some things. So I just said to treat me as if I’ve never swung a bat and anything you see, we correct immediately. Don’t worry about my feelings or ego or anything. I want you to break me down completely so we can build it back up.
“But he’s helped me out just in life, too — not only my swing by my bruised ego. He was helping me build that back up.”
Beckham’s swing is less round than before and he focused on keeping his hips closed and not opening up toward the left side. Take an inside fastball and hit it up the middle, stay square to the plate. Beckham said he noticed much of what he was looking for against Twins’ right-hander Jose Berrios on Sunday, lining a 90-mph sinker to center field — even if it was an out.
“We were like a month or month-and-a-half in and my swing was still frustrating because I knew it wasn’t right,” Beckham said. “But we just kept working, working and working until it finally felt normal.
“I want to finish my career on top. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know it means going out there and giving everything I have to redo what I need to do to be successful.”
Herrmann to DL
The Mariners placed catcher Chris Herrmann on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday evening because of a strained right oblique he suffered earlier in the day.
Seattle recalled catcher David Freitas from Triple-A Tacoma after optioning him to make room for Herrmann on Sunday.