SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There’s a little something different about Jake Lamb this spring.
The D-backs' infielder still wears a big smile around the clubhouse and flashes a quick wit with his teammates.
But just beneath the surface, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo notices a change.
“He seems to have a little bit of an edge to him,” Lovullo said.
Whatever edge Lamb may have is probably the result of two-straight injury-plagued seasons that robbed him of his swing at the plate and his spot in the everyday lineup.
After an All-Star season in 2017 in which he had an OPS of .844, Lamb injured his left shoulder during the first series of 2018 and was hampered by it the rest of the way, slumping to a .655 OPS.
Last year, he opened the season at first base, but suffered a quad injury in April, missed significant time and played sporadically when he returned because Christian Walker had nabbed the starting job at first.
Along the way, Lamb also began to lose his mechanics at the plate. He found himself closing off his front shoulder so instead of facing out towards the pitcher as he started his stride, it curled in. When that happens, he has to spin open with his body causing him to become pull happy and hit more balls on the ground.
To make sure that no longer happens, Lamb opened up his stance at the plate. He starts with his front foot slightly out to the right, which he found helps him keep his shoulder square to the pitcher. When he does that, he can use the whole field and get balls up in the air.
Lamb also changed his offseason hitting program using a pitching machine set up to work specific areas of the hitting zone as opposed to just taking flips and normal batting practice. He even used different bats.
“I used a heavier bat for pitches up and pitches in,” Lamb said. “It allows me to get the barrel to the ball with the correct path. If I tried to spin off at all, a bat this size will bury you. I used a short bat for low pitches and pitches away at an angle. It just reinforces that, ‘Hey if you take the right path and you’re using your legs correctly you’ll get to the baseball.’”
Then, Lamb would set up the machine for different looks. Some simulated a left-hander that throws at an angle rather than over the top (think Madison Bumgarner). Another simulated the same thing from a right-hander (think Adam Ottavino).
“It just challenges you,” Lamb said. “It forces you to clean up everything. If I’m rotating and spinning like I’m doing in the past, I can’t hit these angles, especially the angle away. It picked apart all my holes. I did all that and I felt like I really cleaned up just how my body was working in the swing. I feel really good about it.”
Despite his struggles the past two years, the D-backs still believe in Lamb. Rather than non-tender him in his final year of arbitration eligibility before free agency, they signed him to a $5.51 million contract for 2020.
“Look, he kept working and this guy has All-Star talent,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said. “We just believe in him and his ability to really hit. We saw a lot of progress at third base, he learned how to play first base. There were a lot of good signs for us.”
Lovullo said he hasn’t figured out exactly how Lamb’s playing time will be divided, but he will find a way to get him in the lineup.
“I’ve been on the record as saying he’s one of several players that if he has a good year, we’re a totally different animal,” Lovullo said. “And I want to challenge him with that. I think he will embrace that.”
It sounds like he has.
“It’s pretty simple: I’m looking to win a starting job,” Lamb said. “But if not, I’m going to be the best bench player in the league and then earn a starting job. That’s how I see it.”