DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Through the countless hours of work he put in this winter, Hector Olivera has improved the mechanics of his swing to the point where they are at least more manageable than they were when he made his Major League debut for the Braves in September.Still, Olivera, who
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Through the countless hours of work he put in this winter, Hector Olivera has improved the mechanics of his swing to the point where they are at least more manageable than they were when he made his Major League debut for the Braves in September.
Still, Olivera, who recorded a hit in three at-bats during Monday's 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays, showed some signs as to why his encouraging early Grapefruit League results have not prevented Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer from seeing the need to continue refining the Cuban left fielder's offensive mechanics.
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"I'm seeing some of the same stuff coming back in games, not the big [hip] turn, which is the most critical thing that he can't do, but his front foot is turning up in games, and it's not in any other time," Seitzer said, while pointing out that these flaws have not been as apparent while Olivera takes batting practice.
Olivera grounded out on R.A. Dickey's 63-mph knuckleball during Monday's first inning, and then he rekindled memories of September when he flew open while swinging through Aaron Sanchez's 98-mph fastball to conclude a fourth-inning strikeout.
"The first at-bat, Sanchez blew [Olivera] up pretty good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Then the second at-bat, [Olivera] got to him. It's just a matter of him seeing those pitches. I'm sure he hasn't faced 98 mph this year. This is the fifth game in Spring Training. [Hitters] are a little behind."
To his credit, Olivera seemed to make a quick adjustment after he opened his front side yet again while swinging and missing Sanchez's 92-mph fastball during the sixth inning. The Braves' outfielder showed better balance and discipline when he lined the next pitch -- a 91-mph fastball -- to left field for a single.
Olivera has recorded seven hits (all singles) through his first 16 at-bats this spring. He has struck out just once, but there is reason to wonder if this encouraging trend will continue if he does not refine his mechanics before he starts seeing Major League-caliber pitching on a more consistent basis over the final weeks of the Grapefruit League season.
"I haven't said anything to him yet," Seitzer said. "He's getting his hits, and he's getting his timing. But it might be only a matter of time here real soon where I say, 'OK, we've got to clean that part up.' He's sinking down in his legs, and then when he's popping up some, which is going to cost him power if he doesn't stay on that same plane and stay tall, where he can allow his frame [to] provide the leverage."
Olivera has impressed the Braves with the dedication he has shown while making the transition from third base to left field and while diligently attempting to fix the mechanical flaws that were displayed when he produced a .715 OPS over the 24 games he played after debuting in September.
"His work ethic has just been ridiculous," Seitzer said. "It's absolutely ridiculous how consistent his routine is. It's coming. He's put in a lot of time to clean up a lot of things."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.