Hayes 'taps' into new setup, fuels rout with 5-hit night

June 10th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Ke’Bryan Hayes understood that something needed to change.

On May 28, Hayes struck out four times in a 6-3 loss. It wasn’t just the first time Hayes struck out four times in a game at the Major League level; Hayes believes that it was the first time he had struck out four times in a game in his life.

“I was like, 'Something's got to change. What I'm doing isn't working,’” Hayes said.

So, Hayes made a change. So far, that change is working wonders.

In his eighth game with a mechanical change in tow, Hayes extended his hitting streak to eight games, recording the second five-hit game of his career as the Pirates beat the Mets, 14-7, on Friday night at PNC Park. Hayes has had moments where he’s tantalized his potential as an all-around player. Over this recent stretch, he’s teased what a complete Ke’Bryan Hayes can look like.

“Now, I just feel comfortable with it,” Hayes said. “Now, it's just go up there, be aggressive and hit.”

For just about his entire Major League career, Hayes has utilized a leg kick, but earlier this season, hitting coach Andy Haines floated the idea of using a toe tap instead of the leg kick. Hayes tried the toe tap, but he admitted he didn’t like it and stuck with the leg kick. Following Hayes’ four-strikeout game against the Mariners, Hayes knew he had to try something different.

That game was the nadir of the worst offensive month of Hayes’ career. In May, Hayes hit .208/.248/.323 with 25 strikeouts across 101 plate appearances (24.8 K%). His .570 OPS in May was the lowest he’s posted in a calendar month in his career. Before that forgettable month ended, Hayes set out to try something new.

“[Haines] asked, ‘Do you want to try it again?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’” Hayes recalled.

On May 31, Hayes introduced the toe tap. The mechanical change yielded immediate results as he recorded two hits and drove in two runs. At the time, it was Hayes’ first multi-hit game in about two weeks. Maybe he had found something.

Once the Pirates arrived back in Pittsburgh following their West Coast road trip, Hayes decided he wasn’t going to take half-measures with the toe tap. Over the last week or so, Hayes has gotten more familiar with it, using it when he’s hitting on the field or in the cage to keep building confidence.

On June 2, Hayes not only recorded three more hits, but he blasted a go-ahead three-run home run off Giovanny Gallegos that completed a five-run comeback against the Cardinals. He homered the next day, too, the first time in his career that he’s homered in back-to-back games. Hayes, indeed, had found something.

Hayes has yet to stop hitting since introducing the toe tap. Over his last eight games, Hayes is 19-for-34 (.559) with two home runs, two triples, three doubles and 11 RBIs. He’s raised his OPS from .607 to .734. He’s raised his wRC+ from 64 to 97. During this stretch, Hayes has as many three-hit games as strikeouts (four).

Following the Pirates’ seven-run win on Friday, Hayes said he got to a point where he was trying to reproduce his offensive production from his blistering 2020, but theorized that several ailments over the past two years have limited the leg kick’s effectiveness. In ‘21, Hayes dealt with a left wrist issue that limited him to 96 games. In ‘22, Hayes grinded through 136 games despite dealing with a back ailment for much of the year. The toe tap, then, is a response to Hayes’ current physical state.

“As you get older, your body's going to change,” Hayes said. “I had the back thing, the wrist thing, so maybe I'm not able to get back to that same setup, same type of thing. I went all in with the toe tap, and so far, it's worked for me. I want to keep doing what I'm doing in my work days, keep being aggressive and just keep trying to help my team.”

Added manager Derek Shelton, “He was on time today, and he's been on time for the last six or seven days. I think it goes back to when you put in the work and you get yourself in a good spot, you're going to have good [at-bats].”