Mitchell's patience pays off with 2-walk game

September 16th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Cal Mitchell saw 14 pitches across four plate appearances on Thursday night. He swung at just five of those pitches. He exhibited selectiveness with his swings, and that patience has been the defining feature of his latest stint at the Major League level.

Mitchell has been noticeably more selective since returning from Triple-A Indianapolis on Sept. 1, and that approach was on display in the Pirates’ 7-1 loss to the Mets at Citi Field on Roberto Clemente Day. He drew two walks in a game for the first time as a Major Leaguer, the function of an approach that he has refined in recent days.

“The guys that I’ve watched that are really good. It never seems like they swing at anything ever,” Mitchell said. “I think that comes from really knowing what they want to hit and letting everything else go. That’s something that I’m working on is zoning in on something more specific at the plate.”

Mitchell’s swing rate has decreased noticeably since rejoining the Pirates. In his first two stints with Pittsburgh (44 games), he swung at 52.9 percent of the pitches he saw. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, Mitchell would rank in the top 15 in swing percentage in the Majors.

In his past 10 games coming into the series opener, by contrast, Mitchell had swung at 44.3 percent of the pitches he saw. For comparison, Ke’Bryan Hayes, who swings at the fewest pitches of all qualified Pirates, entered Thursday’s game having swung at 42.8 percent of his pitches.

“I think [Mitchell is] being aggressive on the right pitches,” said manager Derek Shelton.

The more patient approach appears to be yielding results for Mitchell. With the caveat that correlation does not imply causation, he is slashing .344/.462/.500 with one home run and two doubles in September, by far the most successful stretch of hitting in his young career.

“I want to make the most out of my at-bats each time,” Mitchell said. “The best way to do your best is to only swing at pitches that you know you can really drive. It doesn’t go that way all the time, right? It’s hard. Just being more intentional for what I’m looking for and letting a strike go if it’s not what I was looking for.”

These next couple of weeks will be important for Mitchell. The 23-year-old rookie has been able to string together a couple of solid stretches at the Major League level this season, but he has yet to do so over an extended period of time. However, reaching base safely in nine of his past 11 games is a good start.

Mitchell’s two walks were one of the Pirates’ few encouraging performances on a night when the Mets’ pitching staff tallied 16 strikeouts. Michael Chavis, who had two hits, drove in Mitchell for Pittsburgh’s lone run with a double in the second inning, but that was the extent of the Bucs’ offense. Carlos Carrasco carved up Pittsburgh’s bats all evening long, allowing one run across six innings with a season-high 11 strikeouts.

"I think we got a little bit aggressive, and then he executed pitches,” Shelton said. “He's a veteran guy, and he executed pitches to younger players.”