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To step forward, DeJong simplifying things

@anne__rogers
February 29, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- As he thought about ways to work his approach back to what it was at the beginning of last season, Paul DeJong realized that at times, he was overthinking his plan at the plate. It was time to simplify. To reach his overarching goal of improving with

JUPITER, Fla. -- As he thought about ways to work his approach back to what it was at the beginning of last season, Paul DeJong realized that at times, he was overthinking his plan at the plate.

It was time to simplify. To reach his overarching goal of improving with runners in scoring position this season, DeJong wanted to establish his strike zone and the places where he wants to see a pitch to swing at. Until he gets to two strikes, the Cardinals' shortstop is looking for pitches in the upper part of the zone. He hopes that eliminates the chases -- and all the strikeouts -- he has had with pitches down and away.

“If I see it in the zone that I want, I know I’ll make a good swing,” DeJong said. “It’s like a faith in yourself to be able to execute your own plan, as opposed to not having a plan or wanting to do it so much you don’t stick to your plan. Really just trying to oversimplify.”

In the Cardinals’ 6-3 win over the Nationals on Saturday afternoon, DeJong batted cleanup and led off the second inning against lefty Patrick Corbin, known for his slider. On an 0-1 count, Corbin threw an 88-mph two-seamer to the upper, outside part of the plate.

DeJong swung, made contact and put the ball in the right-field wind tunnel that pushed it over the wall.

“To protect against Corbin, I was looking for something up and away because his down and in is so deadly,” DeJong said. “So I got fastballs up and away right where I was looking and just put a good swing on it.”

It’s easier said than done, and all hitters want to eliminate the chase. But DeJong is looking for more consistency in 2020, and he’s hoping that his adjusted approach can help him. The Cardinals are hoping so, too. In search of a cleanup hitter, they believe they can replace Marcell Ozuna’s production with a variety of options, and DeJong is considered a leading candidate, especially with his early burst of RBIs (five) this spring.

His determination to improve with runners in scoring position has also pushed him to the top of the list. DeJong hit .193/.297/.277 with runners in scoring position last season, and only one of his 30 home runs came with a runner on second or third. He admitted that at times last year, he struggled to harness his anxiety to just get the job done when he had an at-bat with runners on base.

DeJong’s goal is not isolated. After last year’s inconsistent offense, the Cardinals hope to improve the entire lineup in situational hitting -- getting on base, getting the runner over, driving the runner home.

“We left money on the table last year in a couple of different areas,” manager Mike Shildt said. “I don’t want to misrepresent that we didn’t game plan, but we didn’t execute the game plan as well as we could have.”

But every hitter is different in how he approaches the situation. DeJong’s approach is more mental; a line-drive swing works in pretty much every situation, so he wants to see the pitches that he knows he can hit -- to turn on autopilot, he says.

“When you’re looking for everything and just trying to get the job done, you can get a little off your game,” DeJong said. “[I'm] trying to visualize before where I want the ball and then swinging in that zone. I trust myself in that zone. 'This is where he’s going to get me out.' I don’t want anything on the corners or down. So really, just having a better plan going into that at-bat. That’ll allow me to not swing at those balls early in the count and get into a better spot.”

For DeJong, situational hitting is eliminating the situation -- or, at least, not dwelling on it. It's simplifying the strike zone regardless of who is standing on base or what the situation is.

“That’s the way I want to think about it, because the more I think, ‘I gotta drive the runner in, it’s the seventh inning, down by 1,’ you start thinking about all these things and tension just builds,” DeJong said. “You’re not going to have your best opportunity. To be able to have your best chance every time is to eliminate the situation and say, ‘OK, get a good pitch to hit is always No. 1.’ And putting a good, quality swing on it, I trust myself in any situation.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.