Kozma using spring to implement plate adjustments
JUPITER, Fla. -- Having arrived at camp cognizant of how far he has fallen on the shortstop depth chart, Pete Kozma will spend the spring trying to fix the swing that gave him so many fits a year ago.
The work actually started in earnest late last season when Kozma was in the midst of finishing the last two months with 12 hits in 85 at-bats. He and hitting coach John Mabry identified three needed tweaks -- shorten the swing, don't let the front side fly open, keep from pulling anything -- and they remain priorities for Kozma this spring.
"I can definitely feel and see [that] the ball flight is different," Kozma said. "I can definitely feel the difference."
Improving on the offensive end is a must for Kozma, whose defensive ability is not enough to warrant him a spot on the 25-man roster. He has already lost his starting job to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals' biggest signing of the offseason. And with Daniel Descalso around and able to play short, there isn't an obvious place for Kozma as a backup either.
He knows it has everything to do with the way things went in 2013, a year that opened with him as the everyday shortstop and closed with the Cardinals desperately seeking production from the position. In between, pitchers changed how they approached Kozma; he never could adapt.
"I couldn't adjust quickly enough," Kozma said on Wednesday. "I couldn't get on base. I couldn't get hits. It was affecting everything. But now I look back on it, and it's helped me that much more."
If Kozma didn't already know his standing, it has become clear in workouts. The Cardinals have spread their infielders among two fields -- Kozma is on the field with five other Minor Leaguers. Finding a way to offer more offensively is the ticket to playing his way back into the more experienced mix.
"The thing is, and I think he realized it at the time, but sometimes in the middle of battle, it's hard to make changes," said Ozzie Smith, a guest instructor this spring who has shared advice with Kozma. "But I see that he has worked extremely hard this winter in cutting down his swing. It was one of the things that I had to work on as an offensive player.
"You have to be able to put the ball in play. If you're not a power-hitting guy, you can't be striking out as much as Pete is striking out. His talents are too good for him not to be a better offensive player. And I think he's taken heed of that, and I see him taking batting practice now and he's driving the ball the other way, which is very important for him."