Langerhans changes stance

  • By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
  • Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

PEORIA, Ariz. — Small changes to a guy’s batting stance can yield big results when they work, but they can feel like an out-of-body experience when they don’t.

Ryan Langerhans is experiencing the joy and, occasionally, the awkwardness of those changes at spring training with the Seattle Mari

ners. He has pulled hands closer to his body as he sets up at the plate and reduced the amount of movement before he begins his swing.

With less than two weeks remaining before the season opener, he’s feeling good and the numbers prove it. Needing a strong spring to win the Mariners’ fourth outfield job, Langerhans is the hottest hitter on the team with a .440 average.

“Throughout the offseason when I was working on it, one day it would feel good and the next day it would feel terrible,” Langerhans said. “When I say terrible, I just wouldn’t be able to feel it. It was something I’d have to think about, and as a hitter if you’re thinking, you’re going to be getting yourself in trouble. The less we can think, the better for everybody.”

Thursday night against the Kansas City Royals, Langerhans had found a non-thinker’s bliss.

In a game when Royals starter Jeff Francis silenced every other Mariner, Langerhans launched a first-inning home run to center field. It was an at-bat that especially caught the eye of Mariners manager Eric Wedge because the left-handed-hitting Langerhans hit it off a lefty.

“You’ve got to take notice of that, the left-on-left and going to center field like that,” Wedge said.

Langerhans, slowed early in camp after having offseason microfracture surgery on his left (throwing) elbow, has played himself solidly into the favorite’s role for the backup outfield job. Besides his bat, he can play all three outfield positions and runs well.

That’s the kind of player Wedge is looking at for the job, although Gabe Gross (batting .077), Michael Saunders (.207) and Mike Wilson (.188) are the others in camp getting playing time when Milton Bradley isn’t in left field.

“I kind of look at it as a total package — somebody who can play all three (positions) who’s going to be able to put up a good at-bat or be a tough out at least,” Wedge said, describing the type player who best fits the backup outfield role. “Ideally, (he must) be able to move or do what we need to do on the bases, too. We’re not talking about somebody who’s supreme with any of that, but somebody who can do those things for you.”

It’s been a vastly different spring training for Langerhans than he had last year, when he batted .129. He made the opening-day roster but was sent down to Class AAA Tacoma four days into the season.

He wound up playing 48 games for the Mariners, making 30 starts at four different positions, but batted .235 and struck out 51 times in 107 at-bats.

Something had to change, and it did over the winter when Langerhans was working out in Texas with Phillip Wellman, a hitting coach in the Cardinals organization who he’d gotten to know with the Braves, and Ryan Ludwick, an outfielder with the San Diego Padres.

Ludwick watched Langerhans in the batting cage and noticed all the movement with his hands as he began his swing.

“After that, it was something I worked on a lot,” Langerhans said. “In the past I had a lot more movement with my hands and it made my swing get long. I really tried to work real hard to eliminate that stuff.”

He has pulled his hands closer to his body and now tries to remain more relaxed before launching his swing.

“Getting ready early has helped me recognize pitches a little bit better and trying to stay loose and tension free has helped my power a little bit,” he said.

There still are moments when the change feels awkward, but so far Langerhans has been a much different hitter — for the better.

“In hindsight I think, ‘Why isn’t this something I found when I was 25? Why did I have to wait until I was 31?'” Langerhans said. “It feels really, really good right now. But it’s just spring training. I’ve got to carry it into the season.”

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog and follow his Twitter updates on the team at @kirbyarnold.

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