Rosario stays 'loose,' delivers clutch hit

May 25th, 2021

Indians manager Terry Francona hasn’t been afraid to say just how badly this team needs outfielder 's bat to heat up. When he was asked about Rosario’s slow start prior to Monday’s series opener in Detroit, he explained once again that he knows it will turn around eventually and said, “I hope it starts tonight.”

It wasn’t the go-ahead base hit at the time, but Rosario finally delivered the clutch, timely hit that he and the club have desperately been waiting for, which ended up being the deciding two-run single that led the Indians to a 6-5 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park on Monday evening.

“I felt like I came to the ballpark with a different mindset,” Rosario said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I told myself that I was thinking a little bit too much. So I just came to do my game, be loose, hit the ball wherever it was.”

Cleveland has spent the last six years fearing every time Rosario would step up to the plate as a member of the Twins, and it was hoping that fear would be instilled in its opponents as soon as he joined the Indians. However, his start to the year has been ice cold. Rosario entered the night having hit .237 with a .637 OPS in 38 at-bats with runners in scoring position and had put together one of his slowest starts through 42 games in his last handful of seasons:

2021: .212 average, three homers, .582 OPS
2020: .253 average, nine homers, .783 OPS
2019: .258 average, 13 homers, .827 OPS
2018: .293 average, nine homers, .860 OPS

Rosario admitted last week that this start has been frustrating. His struggles haven’t been a secret, and he said the only way to get out of it would be to continue hustling and enjoying the game. And for the first time this season, he’s started to indicate that he may be turning the corner.

“I think the difficult part is the mental part, you know, the mentality,” Rosario said of his slow start. “I was beating myself [up] too much trying to produce and do things. But I realized I just needed to have a stronger mindset and better focus and better mentality.”

Rosario has reached a season-high four-game hitting streak after his 2-for-4 performance with two RBIs on Monday. In his last four games, he’s batted .353 with three RBIs. Although it’s a small sample size, it’s the positive sign the team has been searching for.

“His first time up, he got a line-drive base hit,” Francona said. “He hit that ball hard to left-center for the two-RBI [single]. I thought it was good. And [Tigers starter Spencer] Turnbull had been really tough on him in the past, too. I thought he took better swings.”

Along with improving his mental state, the Indians’ hitting coaches have started working with Rosario on adjustments with his hands, comparing his swing now to what it had been in the past. And after he made those changes on Monday, he saw immediate results.

“The real adjustment was I was trying to use too much of my body and not letting my biggest skill, which are my hands, do their part,” Rosario said. “So that was it, let the hands [be] loose, stay back and let them do whatever they have to do with the pitch. I did it today, and I want to stay in and try to keep doing it the same way.”

Signing Rosario was the Indians’ big move of the offseason. The team has been searching for ways to improve its lineup over the last few seasons, and Rosario seemed like the best pickup Cleveland had made in a while. Although the Indians needed him over the last two months, they needs his bat even more now.

The Indians learned on Sunday that slugger Franmil Reyes would be out for the next five to seven weeks with an internal oblique strain. A bat that was the second-most productive in Cleveland’s lineup behind José Ramírez will now be absent until July. The team will need other players to step up to help fill this void, and it starts with Rosario.

“I’ve been in that position before,” Rosario said. “I was the guy producing for the team and I got injured, and somebody told me to focus and say, ‘Hey, now is the time where the team picks up all the hard work you’ve been doing.’ And all the other teammates did. So I think right now it’s time for us to pick up that work and keep producing the way he was producing before.”