How to improve vs. changeups? Keep hitting

May 12th, 2021

The Rangers have a weakness at the plate, and the rest of the league has caught on.

Entering Tuesday, the Rangers were batting just .190 as a team against changeups, and opposing teams had been taking advantage. Of the 5,372 pitches Texas hitters have seen this season, 12.5 percent (669) have been changeups, the seventh-highest rate in the league. There are no quick and easy solutions, but the Rangers’ success offensively hinges on making necessary adjustments.

“That does give us some issues at times, especially certain hitters on our team. It’s something we talk about a lot as far as how to adjust to that,” manager Chris Woodward said. “A good changeup is one of the tougher pitches to adjust to. There’s a lot that goes into being able to hit changeups.”

Unlike with other pitches, such as fastballs or breaking balls, practicing against changeups isn't so clear cut, according to Woodward. Pitching machines are capable of firing changeups, but the artificial hurlers can’t quite recapture the spin and misdirection of a Major League changeup.

“I talk a lot about Adolis [García's] training, where you can train the high fastball, you can train the spin of both breaking balls -- slider, curveball -- but the changeup is a hard one to train," Woodward said. "You have to literally have somebody throw it to you. Obviously, we don’t have Major League pitchers to throw [batting practice] to our guys.”

Woodward has one tangible solution: Keep seeing the pitch during games. Despite the team’s struggles with the changeup, he believes the high volume of changeups that the Rangers are seeing is a positive, because it allows his team to get necessary reps.

In Tuesday afternoon's 4-2 loss to San Francisco, Texas certainly had plenty of opportunities to face that weakness head on.

Giants starter Logan Webb is a changeup pitcher, through and through, using the pitch as much as his sinker (31.5 percent of the time). While he hasn’t had as much success with the pitch compared to last season, his changeup has been discussed as one of the league’s filthiest when it’s working.

“I’m glad we’re seeing a lot of them, because I think it’s like lefties -- the more that we see, the better we’re going to get at it,” Woodward said. “But we’ll definitely have the dialogue of figuring out how to hit those, because guys with good changeups do give us trouble. That’s something we’re going to have to figure out to be successful.”

Trevino gets another day
Catcher Jose Trevino was out of the starting lineup for the second consecutive game with right triceps soreness, per Woodward.

"He’s been playing through it, basically,” Woodward said. “Just kind of affects his throwing. He’s been battling through it. Kind of affects his swing a little bit, but he’ll never tell you he’s sore.”

Woodward said he would’ve used Trevino in Monday’s game if necessary, and that he wouldn't be opposed to using him on Tuesday. That said, Woodward believes the best course of action will be to let Trevino fully recover and use the off-day on Wednesday so he is at full strength come the Rangers’ series in Houston.

Trevino has been one of the league’s best defensive backstops thus far, leading all qualified catchers in Defensive Runs Saved (5) and Defensive Runs Above Average (5).

Dahl in center field
With García out of the starting lineup for a day off, David Dahl assumed center-field responsibilities on Tuesday, getting an opportunity to play for the first time since last Saturday.

"I think right now he just needs some results. He needs some success,” Woodward said. “I think that’ll kind of get him going. He’s definitely driven by confidence a lot of times. The swing is fine. A lot of his at-bats are fine. That last little bit is that conviction that comes with confidence.”

Dahl struggled right out of the gate, slashing .193/.225/.301 in April, but he has begun to heat up in May. Entering Tuesday, Dahl was riding a six-game hitting streak, raising his on-base percentage by 21 points. He kept that streak going with a 2-for-3 performance, including a solo homer in the seventh inning. García pinch-hit in the ninth and struck out to end the game.

When healthy, Dahl is more than capable as a middle-of-the-order bat. In 2019, he earned an All-Star bid with the Rockies, slashing .302/.353/.524 with 15 homers in 100 games.