Nomar Mazara may be off to a similar blazing start as last year but something looks more substantial the young slugger this year.
Perhaps it’s the obvious, that he’s a year older and more experienced after being called up to replace an injured Shin-Soo Choo the first week of 2016 to make his major league debut. Those first two months of his big league career were a blur of heroics at the plate and in the outfield and he won the first two American League Rookie of the Month honors.
Reality set in, however, as pitchers across the league learned quickly not serve him fat fastballs.
“They didn’t know me, I was putting a good swing on everything,” said Mazara, who has seven hits, including two doubles and a homer in the first three games this season. “They started throwing me a lot of breaking balls in the dirt, way outside, or fastballs way inside to see how I reacted. They didn’t throw me a lot of cookies so I was rushing to get hits to try to put the ball in play and it wasn’t happening.”
Mazara struggled for much of the summer but didn’t panic and regrouped for a mild comeback. Although his average remained low in the final month of the season (.213) he hit five homers and had 13 RBIs and kept his on-base plus slugging percentage above .700 the final three months of the season.
From the start of spring training, Mazara has tried to stay true to his plan at the plate and not let pitchers take him out of it.
“He was really strict and professional with his routine,” Banister said of Mazara’s approach early in spring. “He understands now the most important thing he can do is stay disciplined with his daily work. Don’t let any doubt or question creep into his mind about who he is and his place and his skill set in this game. He’s a very talented, very skilled player who can really hit.”
Confidence, of course, is important for any hitter, especially one who doesn’t turn 22 until April 26.
“If you don’t have confidence you lose everything,” Mazara said. “For me, that’s one of the biggest things. I need to have confidence and anticipate everything before it happens.”
Banister added that Mazara was not only battling all of the normal rookie rites of passage — playing in new stadiums all year and facing most pitchers for the first time in his career — but also he was battling his own astounding start when he hit over .300 and had nine homers and 24 RBIs the first two months of his career. Few players can keep up that pace, much less a rookie.
“This is a guy who absorbs information as good as any young player I’ve ever been around,” Banister said. “He logs it in, understands it. Now I think he has a greater sense of how to use that information. As he gets older, stronger, more experienced, it’ll start to trend upward. This is a special player who I believe has a special IQ for hitting.”