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Pro ballplayers no strangers to struggles at new levels

August 20, 2014

Garin Cecchini has had trouble adjusting to AAA-level pitching this season with the PawSox, but has recently shown signs of life at the plate with a nine-game hitting streak. (Photo by Louriann Mardo-Zayat |

PAWTUCKET – The struggles endured by Jackie Bradley Jr. at the major-league level have been well chronicled. Despite the constant reminders that figure to stick for the rest of the season, the center fielder should take comfort in realizing that whether it’s the highest rung or professional baseball or the minors, everyone goes through a stretch where nothing seems to click.
Garin Cecchini’s first season in Triple A serves as the perfect example for a minor-league player brushing up against adversity for the first time as a professional. On May 18, Cecchini was hitting .303 for the PawSox. On the morning of August 8, he woke up to a season-low .236 average next to his name. 
After connecting for a two-run single Tuesday night at McCoy Stadium, one that extended Cecchini’s hitting streak to nine games, his season average stood at .251. It was up to .253 by game’s end as Cecchini finished 2-for-4 in Pawtucket’s 7-0 whitewashing of Lehigh Valley. 
“It’s good something like this happens now because when I get to the big leagues, I’m not going to hit .350 every single week. Even the best players like Mike Trout are going to struggle for a spell,” Cecchini noted. “His struggles last a week, not two months like mine did. I needed to learn how to get through this. A couple of bad games in a row may have snowballed to where I started thinking something was wrong when that wasn’t the case. 
“Pitchers are good. They’re trying to put food on the table too and sometimes you have to tip your cap to them,” Cecchini added. “For me, I wasn’t evaluating that way. I'm not saying that something was wrong with my swing, but I was swinging at bad pitches. It was tough, but during the struggles, you need to keep in mind that you belong here and keep things in perspective that you’re playing the game.”      
For a manager who has managed at opposite ends of the minor-league spectrum, Pawtucket’s Kevin Boles says it’s tough to wrap your head around figuring out who’s going to hit at certain levels and why players struggle when they reach certain levels whether the jump is from the minors to the majors or from Single A to Double A. What it simply comes down to is the quality of information that pitchers have available and whether the hitter has the ability to make the necessary adjustments.
“As long as these players trust that they are good players and they’re going to go through (slumps), they’ll be better off coming out the other end,” said Boles. “Everyone knew who Garin is, but after the great start, how are pitchers going attack him? Their pitch plans change throughout the season.”
While it’s too soon to tell if Cecchini is on the right path, the same cannot be said for Travis Shaw. A year ago, the first baseman was swallowed up hole at Double-A Portland, posting a .221 average and a .394 slugging percentage in 127 games. A successful stint at the Arizona Fall League – .361 with a .452 OBP, .705 slugging mark, five homers and 19 RBI in 17 games – helped instill confidence that hasn’t waned since.
In 120 games between Portland and Pawtucket this season, the 24-year-old Shaw has 22 homers, a .285 batting average and a .491 slugging mark.
“It kind of wears on you day-in and day-out when things don’t feel right,” said Shaw, “but once you break out of it and become a little bit more successful again, that’s when you grow as a player and learn the most. If it happens again, you can get out of it quicker.
“Looking back at last year, I know it wasn’t physical for me,” Shaw continued. “It’s hard to look at the scoreboard and see your numbers going down every single day, but that’s why you need to fight your way through in order to get back to where you were before.”
One area that Boles prefers to stay clear of is projecting how a player may fare upon reaching the majors. All he can go by is what he sees from his perch in the PawSox’ dugout – nothing more and nothing less.  
“It’s such an unknown because we don’t see what the major-league level is, but how does he handle this level? Has he shown some sort of dominance at the level he’s at?” Boles said. “When Mookie Betts showed signs of playing above the speed of the level, that’s where we get the information that we can relay. Obviously you hope they go up there and are prepared, but there’s going to be some learning and adjustments.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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