From his key double in his first at-bat in blue and orange, to his crucial catch in Johan Santana‘s no-hitter, to last night’s tenth inning walk-off knock against the White Sox, Mike Baxter has already found his place in Mets history and into the hearts of the Flushing Faithful. For Baxter however, he is always looking to improve and perform to the best of his ability.
Baxter started off the year having difficulties at the plate, but has apparently found some consistency coming off the bench sporting a .444 OBP when called on to pinch-hit. I spoke with Baxter outside the Irish Circle Tavern luncheon to benefit the Hurricane Sandy rebuilding efforts yesterday, and he says he still has plenty of room for improvement.
“I need to be more consistent with recognizing the pitch that I’m looking for, the pitch I’m waiting for and square it up.” said Baxter.
“In this season compared to last year, I’ve been missing that pitch. With the approach we try to employ with the Mets, that’s a problem. You need to recognize and hit that pitch, that’s what good hitters do. I have been a little frustrated with the way I’ve played and I have got to do better.”
The Mets’ hitting approach under the Alderson regime is commonly understood as trying to wait out the pitcher in order to both draw walks and knock the starter out of the game early. However, Baxter says there is much more to the approach than simply taking a high number of pitches.
“The key to the approach, is not necessarily trying to see a lot of pitches per-se.” said Baxter “It’s wait until you get that one. If it happens to be the first pitch you see and that’s the one you want, then that’s the one you’ve got to swing at.”
“You tend to see more pitches to hit because you’re laying off that 0-1 sinker away that’s a borderline pitch or that 0-0 pitch that’s a borderline strike. It might end up a strike but you’re still in the at-bat rather than putting it in play weakly somewhere and the at-bats over. It helps the chance to get to the good pitch.”
While the Mets continue to apply their selective approach at the plate, one of the more free-swinging bats in the lineup has had trouble with consistent good at-bats, however when it matters most, he always seems to come through this year. Jordany Valdespin has been a spark and a source of excitement on this 13-16 Mets ballclub. Baxter says his teammate is an exciting player to watch.
“He’s a dynamic player, he’s someone that brings a lot to the table as a player and he has a flare for the dramatic in those big spots, proven by his track record.” said Baxter, almost yelling over an airplane howling a few thousand feet above. “His skills as a player are dynamic; he can hit a ball deep to the shortstop and beat it out. He can lay a bunt down and beat it out and he can hit a home run.”…”He’s a good ballpayer and he’s a big part of what we do and why we win.”
Baxter says he hopes to improve all aspects of his game and get “consistent, good at-bats” as he did last night in the bottom of the tenth. He didn’t go deep into the count. He took that ‘0-0 pitch that’s a borderline strike’, he fouled off the second and then finally on a 95-mph two-seam fastball, put a solid drive into it to bring home Ike Davis and take the opener against the White Sox. If he continues to do just that, he will fulfill his goal of “getting his pitch and hitting it.”
In the meantime Baxter will enjoy watching his New York Rangers continue their run towards the Stanley Cup. Something that he says has become the “big thing in the clubhouse right now.”
Special thanks to Ron Darling and Mike Baxter for taking the time to speak with me on Tuesday. It was a pleasure to meet and speak to a couple of classy individuals like them.