Tapia heating up after meeting with family

June 3rd, 2021

DENVER -- As sank deeper into his slump during the last road trip, manager Bud Black mentioned that Tapia’s approach was to try softer, not drive himself crazy in the batting cage. With the bats he broke and helmets he tossed in frustration, there might not have been enough equipment left for him to do the extra cage work.

Tapia knew he had to relax, also. That trip began in New York, where many players from the Dominican Republic have friends and family in the area. For Tapia, it meant time with his older brother, Antonio Linares.

How was he going to get away from baseball this way?

This is a family that loves the game. Linares played in the Phillies organization before Tapia was born, and Tapia wears 15 in his honor. Another brother, Rafael Tapia, played in the Orioles organization, and another, Jose Linares, played professionally in the Dominican Republic.

Back when Raimel Tapia was a child, his mother bought him a glove for his left hand, and he went out for Antonio Linares’ youth team. One day, Tapia took off the glove and began throwing lefty.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Tapia, are you crazy?’” Tapia said in translated Spanish, in an interview a couple years back. “I said, ‘No. I’m lefty. I throw better lefty.’

“He watched me throw and said, ‘OK, you’re a lefty, right now.’”

But during last week’s trip to New York, Tapia and his brother realized that while baseball talk was wonderful, he needed something else.

“He’s always waiting for me when we get to New York and New Jersey,” Tapia said. “We talked a little bit about hitting, a little bit about baseball. He gives me little insights of what he thinks. But you know, it's mostly about family and having a good time.”

The slump continued through the Pittsburgh leg of the trip. But if Tapia’s instincts are correct, the good times are about to roll.

In Wednesday night’s 6-3 victory over the Rangers, Tapia doubled twice and drove in three runs in a 3-for-5 appearance. Before that game, Tapia was in the worst 20-game stretch of his career -- .151 (11-for-73) with 15 strikeouts. He had struggled at other times, but that was when he was a part-time player and at-bats were sporadic. But his .321 batting average last year entrenched him as a regular and sparked his dreams of winning a batting title.

Tapia’s batting average was as high as .320 on May 2. It was .261 going into Thursday afternoon’s start from the leadoff spot against the Rangers.

Wednesday’s success were a liner to the opposite gap (it didn’t get to the wall but Tapia took second with his speed), a bloop double that drove in two runs, and a sweet opposite-way single to drive in an eighth-inning insurance run. For a guy whose bat-to-ball skills are so keen that sometimes he believes he can reach any pitch, for a guy whose swing produces pulled balls on the ground when it isn’t right, Wednesday was encouraging.

Tapia didn’t go outside the zone, and he didn’t miss pitches he should be hitting, which had been a problem. Black's instinct was correct; Tapia didn't need to drive himself crazy. And visiting with his brother, who knows his game best, further reminded Tapia who he is and how his performance would reappear.

“I understand sometimes I miss those pitches,” Tapia said. “Sometimes if I’m late on them, I miss them. But I feel like my timing is getting better. If I hit balls the way I did on those last two at-bats, that’s what I’m capable of and that’s what I’m capable of.”

Black said he looked at the low batting average and on-base percentage beside Tapia’s picture on the scoreboard Wednesday and thought “that didn’t look right.” But he believed Tapia relaxing, studying and clearing his head would lead to better numbers.

“Hopefully, this is the valley for ‘Tap,’ and he can pick it back up to where we think he can get to,” Black said.

The climb just might have begun with a little family time.