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Evan Longoria is swinging a different bat this year — literally, too


John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports


Evan Longoria is 35 years old, has not made an All-Star team in more than a decade, has knotted up his cleats for more than 1,700 big-league games and is dealing with both plantar fasciitis and a tight hamstring that had kept him out of the lineup for three games straight entering Monday’s action.

And the veteran with a middling .726 OPS in his three seasons in San Francisco before this year saw a 3-1 fastball from lefty Austin Gomber and stroked it 113.2 mph to left for a two-run double that registered 1.7 mph faster than any ball he has hit since Statcast has been tracking things like that (so, since 2015).

How did a declining and hurting player whose maximum exit velocity was 109.2 mph in 2015 — when he was 29 and in the prime of his career as a Tampa Bay Rays star — reach a level that he did not even realize was within grasp?

“I didn’t think I had 113 in me,” Longoria said Tuesday over Zoom.

Well, perhaps his bat is not declining — even if his literal bat has declined.

He downsized half an inch and half an ounce, switching to a 33-inch, 31-ounce bat regularly for the first time in his career. He had toyed with it last year but never committed, then watched as his new bat sizzled during spring training.

“Just being able to put good swings on the ball, find the barrel and create some bat speed and not feel like I have to really generate a lot extra with having a lighter, smaller bat,” said Longoria, who is having the kind of month that suggests he won’t switch bats again.

His hard-hit percentage — balls struck at 95 mph or better — is at 69.8 percent, which is No. 1 in all of baseball. The rest of the top six: Giancarlo Stanton, Byron Buxton, Toronto’s Rowdy Tellez, Pete Alonso and Ronald Acuna Jr.

For the more traditional, he is batting .316 with a .418 on-base percentage with four home runs in 67 plate appearances. He is doing it with a different bat, and he is doing it against pitchers from the opposing side.

The reason he was shoehorned into the Giants’ lineup Monday, despite being banged up, entailed their facing Gomber, a lefty, and Longoria has more destroyed than merely hurt opposing southpaws. All of his homers are against lefties, and his OPS is a ludicrous 2.026. He has stepped up to bat 26 times against a lefty made eight outs.

He stroked a single and double, then got a break as the Giants pulled away and the Rockies pulled their lefty, and so Jason Vosler pinch-ran for Longoria.

“I think it just goes back to mechanically being in a really good spot — not having to feel like I’ve got to cheat to certain pitches,” Longoria said, trying to explain why he’s hit lefties so well. “Sometimes when you get worried about mechanics, you’re less external and you’re not thinking about the things that you really should be thinking about, whether it’s the timing or the release point or the pitch that’s coming and just kind of competing.”

He has not had to tweak or search for his swing like he has in past years, which has resulted in a more consistent stroke that is spraying the ball everywhere. Last year he pulled 45.2 percent of the balls he hit; this year the number is down to 32.6 percent, which have included a few opposite-field homers.

And yet, it is possible he is being overlooked. After all, Buster Posey is batting .351 and making his own (very early) case for Comeback Player of the Year. If 2020 were the season of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford later-career resurgences, maybe another duo will be the story of 2021.

He won’t be overlooked on the exit-velocity leaderboard that the Giants keep in their clubhouse, which now shows he has the hardest-hit ball of their season. It does not mean a ton to him — although there has been an extra focus ever since Logan Webb’s 109.3-mph triple made its way onto the board — but does show that what he feels mechanically, how he is swinging the bat and the work he has put in have made a tangible difference. He tweaked something late in his career and maybe a corner has been turned.

“I guess it’s a good teaching moment for kids out there,” he said.

 

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