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DJ finding groove hitting to opposite field

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

CHICAGO -- The heat map for Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu is either a work of art, astronomy or both. It looks as if a mass of golden gas drifts from center field toward right. In right, there is a thin reddish panhandle.

But within the panhandle, it turns maroon, like an imperfect representation of Mars, the Red Planet. Call it Planet LeMahieu, with a geographical pull that takes over baseballs when he hits them in the air.

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CHICAGO -- The heat map for Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu is either a work of art, astronomy or both. It looks as if a mass of golden gas drifts from center field toward right. In right, there is a thin reddish panhandle.

But within the panhandle, it turns maroon, like an imperfect representation of Mars, the Red Planet. Call it Planet LeMahieu, with a geographical pull that takes over baseballs when he hits them in the air.

View Full Game Coverage

LeMahieu is the defending National League batting champ, and the holder of a .281 batting average and .348 on-base percentage after overcoming a slow start this year. He went 2-for-4 in Sunday's 7-5 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He is a right-handed hitter who has forged a career hitting the opposite way, but with considerable gap-to-gap damage.

But the route to success with his swing wasn't a smooth one. Look at LeMahieu's frame -- about 6-foot-4 with 215 pounds of wiry strength.

In the MLB Draft every year, college and high school hitters, who had aluminum-bat success hitting the opposite way are drafted. Then organizations and coaches see a flat, level swing, and they are ready to make the tweaks that lead to pull power.

The Cubs selected LeMahieu in the second round in 2009 and tried it with him. And LeMahieu tried.

"I tried to get the barrel out there more often and turn on balls more often, but I became a worse hitter," LeMahieu said. "I tried to be something I'm not. But, believe me, I tried. You look at me, and you'd think I could hit the ball a long way. I wish I could hit balls like Mark Reynolds or Carlos Gonzalez."

LeMahieu didn't hit more than three homers in any Minor League season with the Cubs, but he found success his way. So he walked a difficult balance, like many talented players -- being asked to make changes that may or may not work.

"The thing about DJ is he listens," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "He's coachable. At some point, he probably felt as though he had to try to do it.

"But DJ wouldn't have been a high Draft pick, he wouldn't have gotten to the big leagues, he wouldn't have progressed if he didn't have a great deal of confidence in who he was and how he did it."

LeMahieu said, "Through practice, through failure, and some positives, I learned I could be a good player and still hit some balls up the middle, and I can hit some home runs."

LeMahieu worked his way to the Majors, but the Cubs traded him to the Rockies in December 2011, mainly for third baseman Ian Stewart, who had hit for considerable power.

The attempt to encourage pull power can't be pushed off as misguided advice from Cubs coaches. LeMahieu said his first year or two with the Rockies, when he bounced between Triple-A and the Majors, the belief was he had to show some pull power to stick. But he hit .280 in 109 games in 2013, and .267 in 149 games in '14 and was a solid enough all-around player to win a starting job.

Comfortable with his swing, LeMahieu hit .301 in 2015 and started in the All-Star Game. Last year brought a .348 average.

"I was driving the ball, but it wasn't pull," LeMahieu said. "And eventually, I had success and they said, 'Just be you. Be the best version of you.' That's when I really became a lot better hitter."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, DJ LeMahieu