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How Christian Yelich got his groove back

After hitting only .222 (6 for 27) during the Miami Marlins season-opening seven-game homestand, 22-year-old left fielder Christian Yelich stayed patient and trusted his approach. His patience has paid off as he is now riding an 11-game hitting streak.

Scott Cunningham

In basketball, when a shooter who is normally accurate is struggling, coaches will often instruct the player to "shoot his way out of the slump." Oftentimes, a slump is just a temporary setback and no mechanical corrections are necessary.

The same principle can translate to hitting a baseball. When a talented hitter is squaring up pitches and hitting them right at defenders, it's a temporary setback that will usually correct itself.

After a two-hit Opening Day against the Colorado Rockies, Yelich's bat seemingly went silent. He was still working pitch counts, but all too often his at-bats were not resulting in base hits. Oddly enough, even though he struck out three times on Opening Day in addition to the two aforementioned hits, Yelich only struck out three times in the five subsequent games that he started during the season-opening home stand. He was putting the ball in play, but just hitting it right into gloves.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond was not concerned. He could see Yelich's growth as a hitter. As Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald noted:

Redmond pointed out how Yelich came back to the dugout following his first at-bat against Jordan Zimmerman on Monday, sharing his assessment of his pitches and how he was attacking — something every manager wants to see from his leadoff hitter.

"Previously it was kind of tough for me to go back and tell a guy this is what he's doing tonight because he would say, 'Hey man, you've got two at-bats against him,' said Yelich, who played in his 75th big-league game Tuesday.

"Obviously when you face guys more, you kind of have a better idea of what their stuff looks like on their good days and bad days, kind of what they're doing to you. You feel more comfortable letting the other guys in the dugout know this is what he's got going tonight and this is what he's doing, let's go get him. I'm starting to feel more comfortable doing that."

Since his slow start, Yelich has continued to square up balls, but those balls are now missing gloves. He has ratcheted his batting average up to .317 and is riding an 11-game hitting streak. Had he not burned his Rookie of the Year eligibility in 2013, he would certainly be among the names in contention.

Speaking of Rookies of the Year, Yelich's numbers thus far in 2014 are reminiscent of another lanky, right-handed throwing, left-handed hitting Marlin first round pick who patrolled left field. That's right, I'm talking about Chris Coghlan. Let's look at the tale of the tape:

Coghlan 2009 .321 .390 .460 9.4% .365
Yelich 2014 .317 .388 .383 10.5% .432

Coghlan ended up hitting nine home runs in 2009, which is in the neighborhood of what we can expect from Yelich this season.  Yelich, however, has shown to be a significantly better base stealer than Coghlan, having already broken a franchise record by successfully stealing a base in each of his first 13 attempts.

If Yelich can duplicate Coghlan's 2009 post-All Star break production of 113 hits with a .372 batting average, without duplicating Cogs' injury misfortune that followed his magical 2009 season, then the Fish have a left fielder who will contend for batting titles for as long as we want to keep him around.

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