PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Disappointed in his 2015 results, catcher Rene Rivera set out to make changes over the offseason to improve upon his offense.
The Rays had acquired Rivera from the Padres in a trade prior to last season. Not only could Rivera play defense and manage pitchers, but he also had some pop as evidenced by his 11 home runs and 44 RBIs in 103 games in 2014.
Unfortunately for Rivera and the Rays, those numbers did not translate in his first season with Tampa Bay, as he hit .178 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 110 games.
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Though he never let his offense hurt his defense, Rivera lost his job because of his lack of offense.
So Rivera sought help over the offseason by enlisting the services of former Major Leaguer Luis Alicea to tinker with his swing. Alicea, who works for ELEV8 Sports Institute, first visited Rivera in Puerto Rico.
"So I worked out with him for about two weeks," Alicea said in a phone interview from his home in Delray Beach, Fla. "I said, 'Try to hit the ball the other way.' But he didn't know how to do that. I said, 'Don't try to hit home runs. Go back to the basic stuff and make contact and hit the ball the other way and I think you're going to be fine.'
"He was playing winter ball at the time, and I recommended to stop playing because winter ball wasn't going to offer him what he needed. He needed to get his mechanics right and really figure out how to be a consistent hitter. That's going to set him apart because he's a pretty good defensive catcher."
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Alicea reported that Rivera made progress during the two weeks they worked together.
"But it wasn't 100 percent of what I wanted him to do, to be able to cover the entire strike zone and have a chance to hit any pitch in the strike zone," Alicea said.
Alicea invited Rivera to join him for further work in Florida in the weeks leading up to Spring Training.
"For five days a week he took a lot of swings and continued to work on hitting the ball the other way," Alicea said. "He worked on how to stay inside the ball against different pitches and stuff like that."
Alicea commended Rivera's work ethic.
"He worked his butt off," Alicea said. "It was hard because he'd never taken that many swings before in a day. His hands blistered up. Changed his hand grip. His hand position. Just to make him more of a consistent hitter.
"He had a lot of flaws in his swing. A lot of things were going on in his swing that were not allowing him to hit inside the ball and see it better. He couldn't hit the ball the other way consistently on command."
Rivera is now brimming with confidence heading into his second campaign with the team.
"I think he's on the right track, I really do," Alicea said. "He left here with a lot of confidence. I think he's going to have a great season."
Rivera echoed Alicea by saying he was ready for the games to begin.
"I feel so confident and comfortable with the changes, I think everything will be fine," Rivera said.
Rays manager Kevin Cash believes Rivera is on track to see improvement in 2016, too.
"Rene does a lot of good things for us," Cash said. "You talk about a guy who shuts down a running game as good as anybody in baseball. The pitchers liked throwing to him last year. And the adjustments he's made this offseason with Luis Alicea, I think it says a lot about his character that he took the time to do that. He shortened some things up and simplified. Every round of BP has been really good."
Rivera said he plans to have fun this season.
"I don't care what happens," Rivera said. "If I'm not playing or if I'm in the lineup, I'm going to have fun and I'm going to be a good teammate. When I'm in the lineup, I'm going to give 100 percent. I'm going to have fun with it. I think that will help me help my team."