Offensively, St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Colby Rasmus’ third season as a major leaguer has been a consistent downhill slide. After batting .301 in the season’s first month, he has fared progressively worse with each turn of the calendar since. The left-handed hitter batted .253 in May, fell to .213 in June and is .147 (5-for-34) in July.
The 24-year-old has also experienced periodic lapses defensively, including not always taking charge as the centerfielder, letting balls get past him, pulling up short at times along with not always throwing well, whether uncorking worm burners or missing the cutoff man.
In each of the final two games before the break, Rasmus was caught in between diving at soft line drives and catching them on the bounce. With him unable to knock them down, the balls shot past him and rolled toward the wall. Three runners came home during Saturday’s second inning on a play scored as a single and an error on Rasmus.
Perhaps the four days off for the All-Star Game are coming at a good time for the former first-round draft pick, both because of his slump as well as comments from his manager, Tony La Russa.
La Russa, with whom Rasmus clashed last season, spoke extensively about his centerfielder during his weekly show on KMOX Radio on Sunday morning. The following comments from the manager are transcribed directly from the audio.
The skipper began his review of Rasmus with understanding.
“He is a developing player,” La Russa said. “He’s got really good ability and he’s in his third year. There is a lot to learn and I do believe that lately when he has been struggling – after that nice little flurry of stuff on the road – he’s trying really hard. He is not throwing at-bats away. He is really trying to work it.”
Rasmus received support from his manager for his recent defensive play.
“Yesterday, when that ball in the first inning or whatever inning it was, he wasn’t trying to… he charged that ball hard,” the manager said. “I am not sure he had a great jump. It was twilight and all that stuff…”
A transition in his remarks had begun when discussing Rasmus’ plate approach.
“The point I am trying to make is, he is working hard, but you’ve got to work smart,” La Russa explained. “We talk two-strike approach to everybody and it is an important part of being a winning hitter. There is a definite stroke that would be more productive for… more like if you watch Albert, and if you watch Berkman and you watch Holliday. Those guys all try to get on top of the ball and through it. They don’t try to just scoop and lift it.”
The manager acknowledged the need to take care with a slumping player.
“You know what? At this point, if a guy is struggling, you don’t want to bury him and you don’t want to make him not want to come to work because he keeps hearing things he doesn’t believe in,” said La Russa.
La Russa clarifies what he thinks the player is hearing.
“He’s getting his help from other places,” La Russa asserted. “Our guys don’t stop. They don’t walk away from him giving him work. They give him all the work he wants. As far as the mechanics and what he is trying to accomplish, that is not coming from our guys.”
The skipper wishes Rasmus was not trying to hit home runs, but instead would hit for average.
“…We try to talk to him about that,” said La Russa. “The guys that hit a lot of home runs hit it because they are just trying to put solid contact with a real good swing. He should try that… He should try to be as close or above a .300 hitter as you can because all the hits… If you hit 30 home runs, that’s only 30 hits. But if you want to get closer to 150 or 200 hits, the base hits – the singles, the doubles – start rallies and continue rallies. It’s out there. We’ve talked to Colby a lot about it.”
La Russa again delineated what his hitting coaches do and what they don’t.
“At this point, the situation we are in is that our hitting guys, which are Mark McGwire and Mike Aldrete, they pretty much just provide work for Colby,” the manager said. “When he wants to take soft toss or tee work or batting practice in the cage or outside, they are there to provide the work for him.
“But as far as the teaching, he is getting it someplace else. We don’t force anything on anybody. In the end though, I think it is important that if he does real well, then whoever is giving him the outside teaching should get the credit. But if he struggles, they should take that responsibility,” La Russa concluded.
La Russa was not specific as to the source of the outside assistance, however, the player is said to have private batting cages at his St. Louis-area residence. His father, Tony, is a successful prep coach who has worked extensively with his son on his hitting in the past.
Rasmus did not start Sunday afternoon, entering the game in the sixth inning. He went 0-for-1 as his batting average dipped to a season-worst .246. That is lowest among Cardinals regulars with only reserve catcher Gerald Laird carrying a lower average among St. Louis’ active position players.
Note: The article on La Russa’s weekly radio show is posted on KMOX’s website, but as of Sunday night, the audio link provided there is to a different interview.
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