Having gotten a grip, sometimes spacey Junior Spivey is the Diamondbacks' catalyst
When diamondbacks hitting coach Dwayne Murphy first saw Junior Spivey play in rookie league ball six years ago, he couldn't believe his eyes. "I said to him, 'Man, what are you doing? Is that your swing?' " says Murphy of the righthanded-hitting Spivey, who held the bat with his hands spread several inches apart. "When he first started, he couldn't hit the ball to the left of second base, couldn't pull the ball at all."
Spivey, a 36th-round draft pick out of Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kans., quickly changed to a conventional grip. As a result fans in Arizona are putting their hands together for the second-year second baseman of the Diamondbacks, who at week's end had extended their lead in the National League West to seven games. Spivey, who inherited the starting job this spring after Craig Counsell was moved to third, was seventh in the league in hitting (.323) and had the third-best average against left-handed pitching (.363).
"He's worked very hard to learn the strike zone and become more disciplined," manager Bob Brenly says. "What's surprising is that he's learned in such a short time."
Spivey got his first taste of the majors in June 2001 when he was called up from Triple A Tucson. He hit .333 in his first 16 games, but pitchers soon realized that he had trouble hitting breaking pitches. By mid-September his average was down around .250, and Brenly left him off the Diamondbacks' postseason roster. "I thought about that every day this winter," Spivey says. "We won the World Series, but I was an outsider."
Instead of heading home to Oklahoma City, Spivey spent most of the off-season in Phoenix working with Murphy. They concentrated on shortening Spivey's stride at the plate and getting him to use his hands more in his stroke; holding his hands back as long as possible keeps Spivey from committing too early on breaking pitches.
The work paid off. In addition to his high average, Spivey, who now bats third, had 12 home runs through Sunday and the highest on-base percentage (.405) among the regulars on the team. However, he's shaky in the field—his 14 errors were tied for the most among NL second basemen—and has a tendency to space out. Concedes Spivey, "Forgetting [the number of] outs has been a problem."
Still, says Brenly, "Every day we see signs of this guy maturing." Case in point: Against the Cubs last Saturday, Spivey kept a ninth-inning, game-winning rally alive by poking righthander Kyle Farnsworth's nasty, two-strike splitter on the outside corner into centerfield for a single. Says Brenly, "A year ago he probably would have tried to jack that ball into the seats."
Less than a half hour after the game had ended, Spivey was studying video of that at bat on a laptop in the clubhouse. "I couldn't have written a better script for myself," he says. "Getting a chance to play every day on a world championship club, I'm the happiest guy in baseball."
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