Drew Stubbs has adjusted his swing, adapted to a new position, and is ready to thrive in Cleveland.
By HAL MCCOY FS Ohio
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — It was bad enough when fans in Great American Ball Park booed
Drew Stubbs late last season and it turned obscene when they booed him at RedsFest, supposedly a celebration of all things good with the Cincinnati Reds.
Clearly, it was time for new scenery, a different-colored uniform.
Just a few days later, Stubbs was traded to the
Cleveland Indians in a deal that sent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds.
“It caught me a little off guard, even though I knew a trade was possible,” said Stubbs, who hit .213 and struck out 166 times last season. “It materialized out of nowhere and I had some mixed emotions and feelings because the Reds were the organization I’ve been with.
“I have a lot of friends and leaving them behind was the toughest part, but coming here for a fresh start — well, the more I thought about it I realized it would be a great thing for me,” he said. “So far it has because we have a good group of guys that have made it easy.”
Stubbs, 28, and a No. 1 draft choice by the Reds in 2006 was a center fielder and a former leadoff hitter. And it was assumed he’d be the center fielder for the Indians, too.
Then shortly before spring training began, the Indians signed free agent outfielder Michael Bourn, a center fielder, and Stubbs wondered, “Is it time for a change again, even before I got started in Cleveland?”
And Stubbs wondered what was happening after Bourn signed and he was summoned to manager Terry Francona’s office.
“We were calling him in to tell him we were moving him from center field to right field and, initially I think he was expecting us to tell him, ‘You’re not playing,’” said Francona. “So we assured him, ‘Hey look, man, we’re not trading you. We’re moving you to right field and
Michael Brantley (another center fielder) to left. He still views himself as a center fielder, which he is, I acknowledge that, but this is the way our team sets up.”
When Francona was asked how long it would take Stubbs to adjust to right field, he said, “About 10 seconds.”
And Stubbs? “When you bring in Bourn, with the contract he has, I could see the handwriting on the wall,” said Stubbs.
That handwriting on the clubhouse wall said, “Bourn, center field.” And Stubbs wondered about himself until his meeting with Francona and now says, “The transition from center to right is going well. They told me just to use the spring to get comfortable out there for the season. By the time Opening Day gets here that’ll be my new home. We now have three center fielders in our lineup and we should really be able to go get the ball, shrink the outfield.”
With his jackrabbit speed, defense and running the bases has not been a problem. Putting the bat on the ball has been a major dilemma (205 strikeouts in 2011).
Even before the trade, Stubbs was working on whiff reduction in the offseason, simplifying his swing.
“I took out the leg kick I’ve had for a long time and put in more of a toe tap to simplify my timing,” he said. “I’ve transitioned it into my spring at-bats and it is going really well and I hope it enables me to take a step forward. I’ve kind of patterned my swing after (Detroit’s) Austin Jackson, who did the same thing last season and had a career year (.300, 16 homers, 10 triples, 66 RBI).”
Francona realizes how hard Stubbs has worked to alleviate his offensive dilemma and says, “He has worked real hard to simplify his approach — one swing and stay with it. I love the approach he has right now. Very simple. He should be able to repeat it.”
When Stubbs struggled in Cincinnati, he would unveil a a new stance or a new swing or break out a new hat, anything to stop a slide toward the abyss.
“When he runs into a rut, which everybody does, I hope that he is able to stick with what he is doing because I think it will work,” Francona said.
Francona said he detected skepticism from Stubbs about moving 250 miles north from Cincinnati to Cleveland and said, “The first day I talked to him after the trade I think he was a little stunned. I think (Reds manager) Dusty Baker spoke to him better than anybody could — you know the relationship he has with his players. He told Drew, ‘This is a great opportunity for you,’ so by the time I got to him he was more open.”
A new home, a new uniform, a new position and a new swing? The scenery couldn’t change any more for Stubbs and he hopes he goes from Rock Bottom to Rocky Top.