CINCINNATI -- During the early days of Spring Training games, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart made a slight adjustment to his approach that had him starting at-bats with the bat rested on his shoulder before he got into the hitting position. The first time he tried it in a Cactus League game, Cozart hit a home run.
That approach is continuing to be successful for Cozart. Not only does he remain one of the hottest hitters in baseball, he is seeing more pitches, drawing more walks and getting on base more often than usual.
"It obviously clears my mind so I can see the ball longer, so I don't swing at bad pitches all the time," Cozart said before Monday's series opener against the Yankees at Great American Ball Park. "It's been working well. As long as I stay with my timing and I'm early, then I see the ball really well."
Cozart entered play on Monday fifth in the National League with a .351 average, seventh with a .438 on-base percentage and 11th in slugging at .596. He's already drawn 16 walks in 27 games after having 37 in 121 games last season.
According to Statcast™, Cozart's overall swing percentage has dropped from 47.8 percent in 2015 and 46.8 percent in '16 to 39.4 percent this season. His swing rate on the first two pitches of an at-bat (0-0, 0-1 or 1-0 counts) has gone from 39.7 percent in 2015 and 33.5 percent in '16 to 25.6 percent in '17.
This season, Cozart is second in the Majors to Toronto's Jose Bautista in pitches per plate appearance at 4.51. Cozart saw an average of 3.74 pitches last season and 3.5 in 2015.
"I go up there looking in a certain area, and if they throw two pitches dotting on the black [of the plate] away, those aren't pitches I want to hit anyway, and I might be down, 0-2," Cozart said. "Then I just battle from there. In the past, I might have swung at one of those and put it in play with bad contact because I didn't want to fall behind."
Cozart was coming off 2015 reconstructive right knee surgery last season but still started out hot with a 10-game hitting streak and a .361 average in April. But he didn't come close to that level of production the rest of the season. This year, following a normal offseason that didn't require any special rehab, Cozart has more endurance and strength in his legs.
"It's hard for anyone to hit .350-.380 or .400 the first month and maintain that," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We certainly don't expect that. But to stay somewhere between warm and hot is a nice thing that I think he's able to do, as long as he's able to maintain that strike zone command that he's improved so much the past year."
Injured lefty starter Brandon Finnegan, who has been on the disabled list since April 16 with a strained teres major muscle near his left shoulder, began long tossing this week. There is no date set for Finnegan to start throwing from a mound.