HOUSTON -- When they’re struggling to get hits, baseball players will resort to almost anything. So when Astros designated hitter Tyler White saw Cubs star Kris Bryant’s recent switch to an axe handle bat had helped him take off, White borrowed one from teammate Josh Reddick and tried it out in the batting cage Monday.
White liked the feel of the bat so much he carried it into the game against the White Sox and cranked his first home run in the year in his second at-bat, a blast to the railroad tracks in the third inning that helped the Astros to their 14th win in their last 16 games, 3-0, at Minute Maid Park.
Whether there’s a correlation between the homer and using an axe handle bat remains to be seen, but White’s first homer since Sept. 11, 2018, gives him something to build upon following a tough start to the season at the plate.
“I’m going to use it as long as I do well,” he said. “I don’t know if it helped or not, but Kris Bryant had been talking about it a lot and I was just like, ‘Well, I’m going to try it out.’ I’ve never used it. I know George [Springer] is a guy that uses it always and a couple of other guys in here. I said, ‘I’m going to give it a try and see how it feels.’ It worked today.”
The homer, which traveled 418 feet and was the third-longest of his career, was White’s first in a span of 127 at-bats. According to Statcast, White’s homer had an exit velocity of 105.7 mph. Jake Marisnick also homered for the Astros, who have homered in 17 consecutive games, two shy of the club record.
“I felt good,” White said. “Some of the stuff I’ve been working on is coming into play there. Yeah, it’s always good to hit home runs, but it was a good team win -- a good, clean win both ways.”
White’s teammates have been supportive of him through his struggles. Tony Kemp, who went 2-for-3 while starting at second base Monday, knows all too well how hard it is for those in White’s position to work out of a funk when you don’t get consistent at-bats. He’s fully behind White’s bat switch.
“Kris Bryant started hitting some balls 15 percent harder with an axe handle, and Whitey used [one] and got a first-game homer,” Kemp said. “He’s normally a guy that comes out the gates and hits the long ball. It’s a process. Sometimes, it’s tough to get going when you get a couple of hits then sit a couple of days and get back in there. I think he’s getting back into a routine now and you could definitely see it tonight.”
White’s at-bats decreased as the zeros piled up, but the Astros have been without Jose Altuve for a week and saw Aledmys Diaz (Friday) and Springer (Sunday) suffer minor injuries in Boston. That opened up some playing time for White.
“This isn’t an easy league to play catch-up in and getting a few hits here and getting a few hits there will bring some confidence to him,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Of course, he’s been a good hitter in this league before, and he was really good for a long stretch last season, so we have confidence in him, but clearly we want to see some production like this.”
Astros fans have been clamoring for the club to bring up No. 3 outfield prospect Yordan Alvarez in recent weeks to take over at designated hitter. White has heard the calls, but has continued to work to put himself in a better spot at the plate. Maybe a change in bats was the difference.
“Just trying to get back to myself and be able to grind at the plate and be able to put good at-bats together,” White said. “That’s a good swing and something I can look to and compare to some of the other swings and keep grinding it out and get back to where I need to be.”