Pitching was consistent, the defense was seamless, and the offense looks as if it is beginning to take shape. Much of the credit for the offensive satisfaction goes to Jordan Mayer and his numbers in his first action of 2006.
Mayer injured his thumb in a routine base running drill in preseason practice and was out for close to four weeks. He was penciled in to return this past weekend, but no one was positive. His rehabilitation went better than planned and he was back at full force.
"It felt good to be back in the lineup," said Mayer. " I feel fine-- just a little rusty. My comeback was a little early but we had ran a bunch of tests on it so we decided to give it the "Big" test."
He passed with flying colors.
He began slowly on Friday by batting eighth in the lineup as the designated hitter. Head coach Smoke Laval had hinted that he wanted to work him back in slowly, but at the same time let him get as many at-bats as he could, as fast as he could. Mayer not only got four at-bats but he made the most of them. He went 2-4 with one run and one RBI.
"I had not had a chance to see live pitching in almost three and half weeks," said Mayer. "My thought process at the plate was pretty simple: I was just trying to see the ball and make good contact. And if the hits came, then they came."
His recovery could not have come at a better time. SEC play starts in four weeks and Laval will need all of his bats in a row. While Mayer was out, the Tigers had no true cleanup hitter. Now, they get their man in Mayer. And based on his performance this weekend, he is already caught up to speed. But Laval expects high things from Mayer. In the preseason, Laval predicted that Mayer would be the team leader in homeruns, guessing that he would get about 20.
"Mayer looked good," said Laval. "We are very fortunate to have Jordan back. We had him penciled in but it is amazing that he is actually made it."
Laval rewarded Mayer's Friday night efforts by moving him up in the lineup and out to the field for the Saturday game. Mayer did not disappoint. He was 2 for 4 again with one run and two RBI's. In fact, he only thing that seems to be bothering Mayer is the hand brace he is wearing.
"I am just trying to get the best swings I can and get used to the brace," said Mayer. "It is nothing outstanding."
There were other changes that were noticeable about Mayer besides his hand brace. Although he played first base last year (three starts), he was primarily the designated hitter. The hiatus did not seem to affect him as he showed off shocking range and glove work.
"I could start throwing and catching before I could begin hitting," said Mayer. "So I had some time where I could focus and work on defense."
Laval seems to think it can be attributed to something else.
"He is a better first baseman and made some god plays." said Laval. " He has gotten lighter. Now he is in my "steal" group, where as last year, he was in my "slug" group."
He could have been in the "slug" group for his offensive numbers from last year. He was pure strength, aptly earning the nickname "Big Country." His 6-3 and 245 pound frame helped him bat .313 with 13 doubles and four home runs. He also added 25 RBI's. Most of these numbers came when he got on a tear at the end of the year. He made a simple adjustment that helped make him a more versatile hitter. He remembers the lesson well and has applied it to the start of this year. He has been spraying the ball to all fields.
"Last year, (hitting instructor) Turtle (Thomas) worked with me on shortening up my swing," said Mayer. "I was too long and I dragged my bat through the zone. So now, it is the same swing just a little shorter."
His swing may be shorter but there is little reason to doubt that because of that he will lose his power or his nickname.
Mayer's return gives Tiger lineup big boost
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