CINCINNATI -- Jose Pirela insists power has always been part of his game. Thing is, power isn't worth much when he's pounding the ball into the ground. So Pirela -- once a notorious ground-ball hitter -- needed to make a change.At the start of the Triple-A season, he did just
CINCINNATI -- Jose Pirela insists power has always been part of his game. Thing is, power isn't worth much when he's pounding the ball into the ground. So Pirela -- once a notorious ground-ball hitter -- needed to make a change.
At the start of the Triple-A season, he did just that. Pirela began to tweak his swing, with the help of El Paso manager Rod Barajas and hitting coach Morgan Burkhart. Two months later, he received a big league callup. And two months after that, he's anchoring the Padres' lineup, slugging better than he has at any level in the past.
Pirela went deep twice Monday night in the Padres' 11-3 loss to the Reds, the first multi-homer game of his career. Twenty-eight of his 57 hits have gone for extra bases this season.
"Power, for what it is, it's always been there," Pirela said through a team interpreter. "But if I'm able to put more balls in the air, then yeah, there can be more home runs in the future."
To his credit, Pirela is the first to acknowledge that he hasn't completely turned a corner. His eight-degree launch angle this year is still below the league average. But it's six degrees higher than his mark from 2015 and '16.
"Rod Barajas and Morgan Burkhart, I have a lot to thank them for," Pirela said. "They're the guys that sat me down and talked to me and really pushed this and talked about a change. I can't say that I have it down 100 percent, but I'm learning it, and I know that the hard work -- and the help they put in -- are a big reason why."
Among Padres with at least 50 balls in play, none has hit the ball harder than Pirela's 89.5-mph mark. But too often in the past, those rockets resulted in groundouts or -- at best -- singles.
"He changed his angle of attack, which is kind of happening throughout baseball," said Padres manager Andy Green. "Guys are looking to lift the baseball. ... Jose Pirela hit a ton of ground balls in the past. Rod really wanted to see what would happen if he hit the ball in the air. To Jose's credit, he's done a tremendous job."
If Pirela really has straightened out his swing, there's reason to believe his power numbers will continue to rise. He's hitting .285/.325/.515 this season with seven homers in 212 plate appearances. He entered the year with just one homer in 144 plate appearances.
In the top of the fourth inning Monday night, he smacked a hanging curveball into the left-field seats. Then in the eighth, he lofted an opposite-field shot. Its 37-degree launch angle was easily the highest of any of his career home runs.
"It's been a focus of mine," Pirela said. "It's very hard to get hits at this level. [Hitting the ball in the air] is definitely something I came into the year working on."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.