As J.T. tinkers with leg kick, was this his 'aha moment'?

May 21st, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- J.T. Realmuto is searching for something.

You only needed to watch his at-bats this week to see that.

Realmuto went 1-for-4 with one double and two strikeouts in Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. He has two hits in his last 25 at-bats. He is batting .231 with two home runs, nine RBIs and a .622 OPS overall.

There are many reasons the Phillies’ offense is scuffling. Realmuto’s struggles are only one of them. But they need him to get going.

“You’re always looking for the at-bat that clicks for you,” Realmuto said about his ninth-inning double. “I’ve been going through way too many swing thoughts, swing changes, just really thinking too much in the batter’s box. That at-bat, I finally got up there and just tried to slow everything down and just feel natural in the box and not think about mechanics. It ended up working out for me, so hopefully that’s my 'aha moment' where I figure it out and get headed in the right direction.”

Realmuto’s double scored Kyle Schwarber to help the Phillies avoid their third shutout loss in four games. The Phillies have not had three shutout losses in four games since June 12-15, 2015, when it happened on the road in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Fans might not remember that stretch, but they probably remember the 19-3 loss in Baltimore on June 16. It got so bad that pitching coach Bob McClure literally waved a white towel because the bullpen phone was off the hook.

Ryne Sandberg resigned as manager 10 days later.

That team lost 99 games. This team is supposed to be a postseason contender. But nothing is clicking this week, including Realmuto.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, of course. It never is. Realmuto worked this spring on shortening his leg kick when batting. There were times last season when it got so high that his left quadriceps was parallel with the ground. He held it there so long that it made him feel rushed at the plate.

A shorter leg kick would give him more time to see the ball.

“It’s usually just a change in the leg kick height, it’s really the only mechanical adjustment that I try to make,” Realmuto said. “As long as my load is slow and early, it usually tends to work out. But lately I’ve been putting myself behind and I haven’t been getting in a good position to hit. When I’m not going well, that’s usually the cause.”

He implemented the shorter leg kick at the beginning of the season. It got bigger at times, but the results haven’t been there either way. Realmuto’s average exit velocity entering Friday (86.0 mph) is the lowest of his career. His hard-hit percentage (34.4) is the lowest since his rookie season with the Marlins in 2015 (34.3). He ranks in the bottom 25 percentile of hitters in both categories.

From Tuesday to Thursday against the Padres, Realmuto completely abandoned the leg kick for a foot tap. He tapped his front foot once as the ball was delivered. He then briefly raised his leg before setting it down as he swung.

“When you’re struggling, sometimes you start searching,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “Sometimes that can be dangerous, instead of just staying with the plan.”

“Not necessarily desperation, it’s something I’ve tried in the past,” Realmuto said. “In the offseason or even every day, I do drills like that in the cage just to feel it. But like I said, I was not on time enough, so I was really doing anything I could to try to get myself in better timing.”

The leg kick was back on Friday.

“It’s all timing based,” Realmuto said. “I just haven’t felt right timing-wise this whole season. That’s what I’ve been trying to toy with, find my timing. I’ve been a little late on the fastballs and not been able to stay back on the offspeed. I’m caught in between right now. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. But like I said, that last at-bat I finally felt like my old self. I was able to cover both. I just threw everything out the window and said I’m just going to feel natural in the box and get ready to hit. I felt more like myself in that at-bat.”