ARLINGTON, Texas - Mired in one of the worst offensive slumps of his professional career, J.P. Arencibia is going back to the basics.
In the bowels of Rangers Ballpark, not far from the Blue Jays' clubhouse, is the visitor's batting cage. That's where, for about an hour on Friday afternoon, Arencibia and hitting coach Chad Mottola focused on the fundamentals of hitting.
Not against live pitching. Not against a pitching machine.
Just hitter, coach, a bat, a ball and a tee.
“It's June and we shouldn't be doing this but that's where we're at,” said Mottola. “Now you have to accept this. Where he thinks and the great athletes do, (they) want to play at 90 miles per hour the whole time, where I can't stand watching the same thing over and over. We have to back it up to where the ball's not moving again and get that confidence back and get that correct feel back. That separation, letting your hands hit the ball rather than you jumping at the ball.”
Arencibia went 0-4 in Thursday's 3-1 win over the Rangers. He has just three hits in his last 45 at bats, a span of 12 games dating back to the start of the National League road trip on May 30 in Atlanta.
He's hitting .211 for the season and with just six walks has an on base percentage of .233, the lowest in all of baseball for hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify.
The strikeouts get talked about most. He's racking them up – 76 in 228 offical at bats – which ranks him second on the Blue Jays behind Colby Rasmus (79.)
Arencibia has a 0.1 WAR, the Wins Above Replacement statistic, which suggests a bench player or minor league call up would provide the Blue Jays with essentially equal productivity.
He doesn't have to be presented with the numbers. Arencibia knows what they are and in one breath he tells you they need to get better. In the next, perhaps looking for the silver lining in a cloudy time, Arencibia wants to discuss areas he feels he's done well.
“Even statistically, looking, obviously not my average and stuff like that but my production as far as RBIs, even though I should have more, is pretty up there for my position,” he said. “I would say my extra base hits. It's just one of those things. I think you can't really look into it other than coming in everyday and trying to work to be consistent and help the team.”
Arencibia's 12 home runs are second-most among catchers. Only Atlanta's Evan Gattis, with 14, has more.
His 30 RBI rank Arencibia ninth at his position.
Most of Arencibia's success, however, came earlier in the season. Slumps happen and numbers aside, players can tax themselves mentally trying to find the best methods to emerge.
“(Coaches are) sitting there watching the same game everyone else is doing and we get frustrated as well but we know obviously he's not going in the box with those goals,” said Mottola. “When you have fear in this game it tends to get really fast and you are 0-2 every time. Then when you start seeing some pitches, recognizing them out of hand instead of just hoping, then we're starting to go down the right path. That's kind of where we're at now. I think he's kind of hit rock bottom and seeing the results and saying ‘Okay, I'm ready' type thing and that's when it's easier as a coach.”
Arencibia, sometimes criticized for his defense, is doing his best to compartmentalize his struggles at the plate by focusing on other ways to help his team.
“As soon as I put on my catcher's gear I become somebody else,” said Arencibia. “I have to go out there and I have to know that that pitcher, I'm trying to win the game on the defensive front and I'm trying to do everything I can to win that game defensively.”
Broadly discussing offensive slumps, hitting coach Chad Mottola believes batters most often get themselves into trouble with the game's most basic pitch.
“I have a theory that all slumps are started by fastballs, Mottola told TSN.ca. “They get your body fast and open it up quick and that exposes you to everything.”
GIBBONS ON ALL-STAR COACHING STAFF
Blue Jays' manager John Gibbons, along with White Sox skipper Robin Ventura, will be part of American League manager Jim Leyland's (Tigers) coaching staff.
“It's a thrill,” said Gibbons. “Just to get an opportunity in Major League Baseball to go to a game like that but then to be selected by Jimmy Leyland, who I think the world of, I mean he's recognized in the baseball world as one of the top ever. His numbers speak for themselves.”
Gibbons, the Mets' first round pick (24th overall) in 1980, noted the connection each coach has to the host ballclub.
Ventura played for the Mets for three seasons (1999-2001.)
National League manager Bruce Bochy, of the San Francisco Giants, played for the Mets in 1982. His coaches are Terry Collins, the current manager of the Mets and Davey Johnson, who managed the Mets to their last world championship in 1986.
Wednesday's rainout in Chicago provides Josh Johnson an extra day to let a blister on his right middle finger heal.
R.A. Dickey will pitch, on regular four days of rest, on Saturday.
Johnson will start on Sunday. He'll be on six days of rest.