2018-04-22 20:06:09
Yoenis Cespedes Diagnoses Himself With a Golf Deficiency

20:06, April 22 238 0

ATLANTA — Yoenis Cespedes, normally the Mets’ most dynamic hitter, is off to an unusual slump this season. Through 20 games, he has a feeble .195 batting average and just four home runs. His 37 strikeouts lead baseball. And, despite leading the Mets with 18 R.B.I., including three game-winning hits, he admitted he is “far too lost” at the plate.

He gave a possible reason for the poor start this weekend: not playing enough golf, a hobby beloved by many baseball players. And, yes, he is serious.

“In previous seasons, one of the things I did when I wasn’t going well was to play golf,” he said after a game on Friday in which he struck out four times but still drove in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning. “This year, I’m not playing golf.”

Cespedes made the decision to cut out his golfing habit, in an effort to perhaps prevent injuries. He had become so obsessed with golf, which he first tried shortly after defecting from Cuba in 2011, that he was hoping to become a professional golfer after his baseball days were over.

But Cespedes, 32, a two-time All-Star, has dealt with several leg ailments recently. Last season, a hamstring strain in each leg limited him to 81 games. His lack of hydration, stretching and running were questioned. So this off-season, he changed his training, focusing less on his old power lifting and more on flexibility by adding yoga and running.

And he has not played golf since last June, he said. He had hoped ditching the sport would preserve his legs.

Another possible benefit: It could spare Cespedes from scrutiny. He was spotted playing golf before Game 4 of the 2015 National League Championship Series, a contest he left with a sore shoulder. And while dealing with a balky quadriceps, he was seen playing golf the morning before an August 2016 game against the Yankees in which he aggravated his leg injury.

“There are a lot of good hitters, when they’re going bad and in a slump, the first thing they do to get out of it is go play golf,” Cespedes said this spring training, words that now seem prescient.

The supposed correlation between golf and a better baseball swing, of course, has no scientific basis. Because of the marathon season, baseball players are often highly regimented in addition to being superstitious. Some view golf as a therapeutic release from the baseball diamond, so Cespedes may simply be missing his beloved hobby.

Whatever the reason, Cespedes has been off since the start of this season, the second of his four-year $110 million contract. He is late on fastballs and ahead on off-speed pitches. He has swung at pitches outside the strike zone more than he has in any other season.

“He’s had some tough at-bats, and he’s scuffled a little bit, but he’s got the ability to rise to the occasion and get a big hit when you need him,” said Pat Roessler, the Mets hitting coach. “Obviously he’s not himself.”

Cespedes has tried combining new tactics with old hitting drills to jolt himself out of the slump. His video studying, for example, used to be limited to a few clips of an opposing pitcher. Now, he said, he has asked for a lot of video of his swing from his best season, 2015, in which he hit 35 home runs and drove in 105 runs, to compare his swing that season with what he is doing now.

“And still, things just aren’t happening for me,” he said.

This is where Cespedes believes golf could help him — he’s pondering returning to the sport soon, he said. Although golf involves hitting a still, tiny ball, as opposed to the larger and moving baseball, there are similarities in the body motion in both sports. Lately, Cespedes said, he had been making contact with every pitch too early, and his front shoulder was flying open, leading to weak contact.

“With golf, I had to keep my hands inside and keep watching the ball in order to hit it well,” he said in Spanish. “I think that helped me.”

Many other baseball players have sworn by golf. Brian Dozier, the Minnesota Twins’ second baseman, reached an epiphany on the golf course and later morphed into a power hitter. Mark Teixeira, the former Yankees slugger, and Ian Kinsler, the Los Angeles Angels second baseman, are avid golfers.

Bobby Cox, the manager of the Atlanta Braves during their heyday of the 1990s and 2000s, allowed Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine to golf during the season, but they were starting pitchers, not everyday players like Cespedes.

Dansby Swanson the Braves’ shortstop, said he doesn’t golf during the season — too much time on his feet and in the sun. But he saw parallels with baseball in how golfers use their hips and generate force from the ground in their swings. He also saw a psychological benefit.

“Sometimes when guys are feeling a little off, if they’re a right-handed hitter, they’ll just swing left-handed a few times,” he said. “And that resets your body. Some people do the same with the golf swing. Your body knows what it needs. It’s funny how naturally it works itself out.”

Cespedes’s possible return to the course would also be his own decision, although he received input from the team’s training staff on the previous choice not to. He spoke with Manager Mickey Callaway, and the team’s performance staff discussed the best guidelines for Cespedes if he golfed again during the season, such as proper rest and hydration.

“Golf is like anything else: If he does it the right way, is smart about it — off days, a day when we come in and we’re not taking B.P., and it doesn’t fatigue him or affect baseball — then guys can do what they want away from the field,” Callaway said.

Cespedes said his past off-season training routines had been a major factor in his injuries, so he felt that he could handle golf again because of the changes he’d made to his regimen.

Added John Ricco, the Mets’ assistant general manager: “For the health of the mind and the body, you don’t want to be too restrictive. This game and our lifestyle is all-in, so you have to walk that balance — whatever the issue — whether it’s nutrition, what they do after games and off days.”

And at age 32, Cespedes is still fine-tuning that balance. Asked if he missed playing golf, Cespedes grinned and said, “Apparently, I do.”