Adam Frazier had a clear mission coming out of Spring Training this year: Start the season in strong fashion. So far, mission accomplished.
Frazier recorded three hits and reached base four times to fuel the Pirates’ 4-2 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park on Thursday afternoon, a second straight series victory for Pittsburgh.
The early success by Frazier has been no fluke. He has put last season’s career-low marks in batting average (.230) and OPS (.661) in the rearview and has consistently put the ball in the outfield this year.
After snapping an eight-game hitting streak in Game 2 of Wednesday’s seven-inning doubleheader, Frazier doubled on the first pitch of Thursday’s game and came around to score on Bryan Reynolds’ single. Frazier singled the next-at bat -- though he was quickly retired in a double play -- then legged out a tailor-made double-play ball of his own in the fifth to keep the chain moving.
“When he gets to two strikes, he just stays under control,” manager Derek Shelton said. “There are no big swings. I think one of the things is he’s able to foul off pitches. You foul off pitches, foul off pitches, you put yourself in position to get a pitch you can hit.”
The level-headed two-strike approach factored into Frazier's biggest hit of the game: a one-out single in the eighth inning. He shortened his swing to get a good knock on an 0-2 slider from José Cisnero, then took second on a wild pitch to set up Moran for the decisive two-out RBI single.
Frazier, who now has 16 hits in his past 10 games, is by no means a slugger. His 84.4 mph average exit velocity is in the bottom 6% of the league, and he has only hit two balls with a 100-plus mph exit velocity this season.
But that’s never really been Frazier’s game. Shelton said the biggest struggles he’s seen Frazier have are when he tries to be too “rotational,” which in part means creating a longer swing meant to produce a bit more power. Instead, Frazier is doing just fine with his tight, compact swing.
“When you’re short to the ball, you essentially have the ability to hit all pitches to all fields, because of how you adjust the barrel,” Shelton said about Frazier earlier this week. “We’ve seen that out of Adam this year. Some of the balls he’s hit to the back side have been line drives that the exit velocity hasn’t been as high, but they’ve been line drives.”
The second baseman is also doing something he hasn’t done much in his career: pushing the ball to the opposite field. His 43.3% opposite-field batted-ball profile is by far the highest mark since his 36.4% opposite-field rate in 2016, his debut season, though Frazier said he’s hoping to get to a more level number to all fields.
“I still think there’s more in there, that I can drive the ball gap to gap,” Frazier said. “Right now, there’s cold weather out and it’s really not happening, but I’m just trying to stay where I’m at and spray the ball around.”
Frazier is far from alone in that kind of small-ball, gap-to-gap approach on offense. Only Moran and Evans have hit more than two homers this season, and even Moran is working to push across runs with shorter strokes vs. bigger swings in clutch situations, including his 75.8 mph grounder for the game-winning hit on Thursday.
“We won today because we had two ground balls on the back side,” Shelton said. “That’s the way our offense is built. We’re not going to sit back and bang [home runs], but we have to continue to put ourselves in the position to do those things.”
“It’s just tough at-bats,” Frazier said of the Pirates’ identity on offense. “It’s not like we’ve got a bunch of home run hitters or anything like that. Everybody’s fighting and putting together tough at-bats, and eventually you break through.”