PNC PARK – When a 36-year-old goes from rock bottom to career year, it raises eyebrows. Marlon Byrd understands this.
Not only has Byrd hit a career-best 22 home runs this season and is boasting a career-high slugging mark, but according to hittracker.com, Byrd’s average home run distance of 412.2 feet is the seventh longest average in baseball.
The names before him on the list?
1. Hunter Pence
2. Eric Hosmer
3. Justin Upton
4. Mike Trout
5. Mike Napoli
6. Giancarlo Stanton
Not bad company (though who invited Napoli?)
Byrd is seventh. He’s hitting baseballs as hard as the top sluggers in baseballs.
Eyebrow raising? Certainly.
This is what Byrd told reporters suspicious New York reporters earlier this year:
“I expected (suspicion),” Byrd said. “The big thing is, why wouldn’t anybody question it? I’m 35 going on 36. Last year, I hit .210 with a home run and [nine] RBIs, in conjunction with testing positive.”
Byrd maintains that he’s clean.
And Garrett Jones offered what is perhaps behind Byrd’s magical career year after his 3-for-4 breakout against Shelby Miller and the Cardinals on Friday.
Jones re-entered the starting lineup Friday after a three-day break, and after making some adjustments in talking with Byrd.
“When (Byrd) first got here he came up to me and said you’[re a guy who can hit 30-, 40-home runs We started talking bout hitting just a few things he mentioned to me made a lot of sense,” Jones said. “He was talking about last year he didn’t hit for power he worked with a guy this offseason and now he’s hitting with power. He’s not any stronger just a little mechanical change in his swing path.
“Sometimes hitting coaches, they tell you things in a different way. He just expressed something in a different way that we related as player.”
The Pirates are hoping that something that clicked for Byrd, that mechanical adjustment that has apparently given him better extension, also clicks for Jones.
Jones entered Friday batting .119 in August and .186 in the second half. This from a guy who hit 27 home runs and had a .516 slugging mark last year.
The Pirates hope the mechanical adjustment is real. And I thought it was his third at bat off Miller, when he drove a changeup to left field for an RBI single (Miller rarely throws change ups), was most telling of an improved approach.
The Pirates went outside the organization to find offensive help earlier this week, acquiring Byrd from the Mets on Tuesday to fill their offensive void in right field. But with the postseason roster eligibility deadline Saturday, any other offensive help for the runs-starved Pirates – averaging just 3.1 runs per game in the second half – must come internally.
Jones is the best hope for an internal lift.
And perhaps words from an external source Byrd will provide that internal lift.