Rios' redemption

Rios' redemption
Holy schnikes! It's airborne! // Jesse Johnson, US PRESSWIRE

After sliding in for the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th in Baltimore on Monday, Carlos Quentin popped up and immediately turned to first and pointed in appreciation to the party responsible for what would be the game-winning blow, Alex Rios.

Clearly not satisfied with the level of acknowledgement he got from Rios (after all, Rios is ‘effin comatose out there), Quentin swiveled again and held his hands up to applaud.

I suppose a player might make just as much of a show of encouragement to the aloof headcase that no one can get a read on as he would the good teammate that everyone’s rooting for.  In either case, the player would still be Alex Rios, and in either case his revival would be very important to achieving what every player dreams of: playoff bonuses!

After doubling and singling Monday night, Rios is now 7-13 with 4 XBH’s in his last three games.  That generally doesn’t constitute much more than “a nice three games”, but in this case it also represents the most prolonged stretch of power production Alex has had all season.  Man, what a season.

It’s easy to get excited about a blip from Rios, because even a mediocre hitter with the occasional blip of power would be an upgrade, or at least someone less roundly detested by the fanbase.

But with Rios’ history as someone who once was worth $12 million (in baseball terms at least), there’s also the hope that at any moment he will ‘snap back’ to who he is and end this season-long game of career-ending chicken with Adam Dunn.

That hope is tied up to the adjustments that Rios has made have some real, lasting effect.  He’s tried to make alterations to his goofy, hunched stance and low hands placement, but really whatever the tweaks are, there’s a need to result in a lot less of Rios flying out open to pull everything and leaving him helpless against pitchds on the outer half of the plate.

Which coincidentally is where every pitcher has worked him all season long.

As Jim Margalus pointed out, Rios getting jammed recently has been almost as good of a sign as his solid contact, as it means he’s lightened his preposterous obsession with the inner half to cover more of the plate.  His bat exploded on a four-seamer up and in his kitchen in the 4th inning Monday, and that was at least more exciting than a feeble groundout to short.  Everyone loves explosions.

However, because success–not just different types of failure–is the goal, let’s look at Rios’ hits to see if he’s really covering the outer half now.  The light blue dots are the pitches that were hit.

This isn’t a transcendent show of plate coverage, but Rios is still a pull-hitter, and was able to hook this egregiously hanging Jeremy Guthrie slider into the gap in left in the 2nd inning.

This is uh…not well-located, but it is a two-seamer from Jim Johnson with decent sink on it, and Rios whipped it toward 3rd base with authority.  It’s not a prime example of plate coverage, but I’m sure Alex has botched plenty of heaters right down the pipe this season.

Brooks Baseball Pitch/FX charts are big, so rather than include them all, let’s just parse it down to anymore examples of Rios looking like a new, capable, plate-covering man.

Rios stays with a Carl Pavano sinker away and drives it to center for extra bases.  This is pretty much not something he’s done ever.

Rios sticks with another sinker that isn’t quite qualified for it’s job title, this time hooking it dead to left for another double.

Jose Mijares comes in and very strictly follows the scouting report to stay away, but his 88 mph fastball up still gets golfed to left field…or above it.  Maybe a pitch this up is just impossible to roll over, but Rios stays locked in enough to to drive all of it.  That’s a lot of pop on the outer half.

If Rios is indeed a changed hitter, or at least making adjustments (he’s still furiously pull-oriented), it would stand to reason that he could make hay for a while before the league gets wise to his act again.  That would at least make pitchers work harder to retire him than they have since oh…back when Daniel Hudson was still a promising young Charlotte farmhand.

Inevitably, if Rios turns it around crazily like he’s suggesting to (or even if he doesn’t, since he’s already eclipsed his July extra-base hit total), it will beg questions of what the hell was he waiting for.

But while Rios’ grasp of the moment certainly has lapsed before, and shall again, and when the motivational catalyst of him getting benched should have been introduced could certainly be debated all winter, a cognizant and competent Alex Rios exists.

His stay is indefinite.


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