Tomas enjoying himself as D-backs’ regular third baseman

PHOENIX — Agile defender. All-fields hitter. A big-stage kind of guy. This is the Yasmany Tomas the Diamondbacks believed they signed last winter, even if it was not immediately apparent this spring.

Tomas has a simple explanation for the recent surge that should have silenced the skeptics.

"I’m enjoying myself," Tomas said through an interpreter. "This is what I did in Cuba. It is serious, but at the same time, it is the joy of playing the game. I am really having fun doing it."

Tomas has settled in nicely as the D-backs’ regular third baseman after the loss of Jake Lamb, and with regular playing time has come a rhythm that was elusive during a sink-or-swim spring training, when he learned the position on the fly. The bare-handed pickup and throw to get speedy Miami leadoff man Dee Gordon the other day was another indicator of his confidence at the position, and it seems to have carried over at the plate.

Tomas, the D-backs’ $68 million man, entered Friday’s game with a streak of six consecutive multiple-hit games, one short of Luis Gonzalez’s team record set in 2001. The streak has included a little bit of everything. Tomas hit his first major league home run last Saturday in Philadelphia, had a two-out, two-run double in a 13-inning victory at Miami on Monday and also had a two-out, RBI double in the first inning of a 7-6 victory in Miami on Thursday.

"You see a different guy than the one we saw in spring training," D-backs manager Chip Hale said.

"The growth is there and the confidence is there. And he’s having some success, so that all comes together and he feels like he’s the ballplayer that he should be. What we always look at is good at-bats, and he seems to have good at-bats against good pitchers. He’s been clutch for us. He has the ability to go up there with two outs and get a hit and drive in a run. Those are huge things on a team. That just lifts the whole dugout up."

With 13 hits in his last 28 at-bats, Tomas’s batting average has jumped to .349, which would be second to Miami’s Gordon and just ahead of the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. He had 92 and needed 121. Tomas had doubles in three of his last four games, and his .422 slugging percentage is fourth on the team among players with at least 30 at-bats. That part of his game is no surprise.

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"I’ve said it from the start that this guy is going to be a hitter," D-backs hitting coach Turner Ward said.

"I could see it in spring training. You could see the bat speed, the power, the pitch selection. He is a guy who has great hand-eye coordination. His pitch recognition on off-speed (pitches) … His plate discipline is very good. He’s just working right now on a very consistent swing path. Now, it is just trying to stay consistent."

Tomas’ home run in Philadelphia was a line drive into the right field seats, and many of his hits have come to center field or right-center. That is fine with the D-backs, who approve of his all-field approach and do not want to force him to become pull-centric at age 24.

"He’ll definitely learn to do that, but that is something you surely don’t want to tap into until the opposing guys make him do that, too," Ward said. "His approach is very good. You want hitters to have that style and approach at the plate."

The D-backs immersed Tomas heavily in spring training, and it showed in his whole game. His legs were heavy from the extra reps at a new position, and he was a little heavy to begin with. That combined to make it seem as if he were fighting himself, which is no longer the case.

"Once we got into the season, it is an easier schedule for him physically," Hale said. "And he’s lost some weight. He’s worked hard in the weight room. Worked hard with the trainers. He is moving around better. His reactions are better. His range has gotten better. I just think he was a lot more athletic than people gave him credit for. He didn’t show it in spring training, but we’ve seen it. 

"If you ask the coaches who hit him ground balls every day, you can see a confidence that is there that wasn’t there. His feet are moving better. His feet are lighter. Good infielders have good feet."

Andy Green is the infield coach as well as the third base coach, and he has seen Tomas’ improvement.

"From where he was on Day 1 to where he is now, it’s been exponential progress," Green said. "I think he is acclimating culturally now, and that relaxes him, and enables him to perform. He’s done a tremendous job. I don’t think anyone could observe him and think otherwise.

"He’s a guy from the beginning who was never afraid to stick his nose in there and get after it. That’s served him very well. He’s played the position as well as we could have hoped for him to. The main thing we have preached is keeping the feet active, staying down, staying engaged very pitch, and he’s done that exceptionally well. He’s really a guy that performs well under pressure."

The pressure will shift to the D-backs shortly. Lamb is expected to return from his left foot injury in two weeks at the most, which will create a roster crunch. Lamb was hitting .414 with nine RBI in 10 games, and he will play. Aaron Hill has also played third base, but less as Tomas has thrived.

Tomas was primarily an outfielder in Cuba, played there in his brief stop at Triple-A Reno this season, and general manager Dave Stewart said when Tomas was optioned at the end of spring training that outfield was probably his best spot. At the same time, the D-backs are stacked in the outfield, with barely enough playing time for the four they have.

"We keep saying we’ll cross that bridge when it comes, but it is coming and ‘Yaz’ just keeps swinging," Hale said. "It’s going to be interesting, because you want to have both those bats in the lineup."

Could Tomas move to the outfield? Could a player be dealt to alleviate the crunch?

"We’ll see," Hale said of Tomas’ possible move to the outfield. "We’ll see what we have in store. We’re going to have to figure that out."

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