Gautreau In A Battle

Striking out is something no prospect wants to be known for. For a hitter that does not hit 30 homers a season that tag is even worse. Jake Gautreau struck out 131 times in 122 games this year playing for Mobile. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League and admits cutting down on his whiffs and having better plate discipline were top priorities. <br><br> "Quality at bats," Gautreau confirms.

"I had never been like this before until this year so that is one thing I wanted to do when I came out (to Arizona) is definitely have better at bats. But it was such a bad season all around.

"It was a struggle for me and it kind of got worse and worse. It seemed like I kept digging a hole deeper and deeper and my AB's just never got better, but I came out here and am working on some stuff. I feel great up there (in the batter's box). I feel really comfortable and I feel like I used to feel. That is all I am really worried about right now."

For baseball players in the minors and majors, it is a constant mental battle to stay focused. When the mind wanders, that is when the slumps come in. Talk to anyone in "the zone" and they will tell you it is something they just don't think about.

Baseball is meant to come naturally. Struggling to overcome the mind is what makes a player or breaks a player.

"Yeah, I started off struggling. It was definitely mostly mental. This game is all mental basically if you have talent. It is so mental and if you can keep a level head you will be ok. And this year I think I worried about way too many things and got caught up."

It starts with working the count. Making the pitcher pitch to your strengths. The strike zone doesn't change too much (although players will tell you differently depending on the umpire) and it is up to a batter to make adjustments in the zone and not swing at the garbage. That is part of the constant battle.

"I just try to have quality AB's and if you have guys in scoring position, especially with less than two outs, you just have to try and find ways to get those guys in no matter what it is: if it is a ground out, if it is a sac fly, whatever it may be. You have to find a way to do it and I think in Pro ball it is a huge deal."

Quality outs. Going the other way to advance a runner. Staying out of bad situations and making sure if you do get out, as most do 70% of the time, you have done something to allow the next guy up a chance to succeed.

Which begs the question, is going the other way something you have to be conscious of?

"I have always done that just naturally. If I was trying to work on anything here it would probably be just – probably just cutting down on my strikeouts. It has worked so far I have cut them down big time because I struck out a lot this year."

The story comes full circle. It is that mental thing being discussed. Striking out weighs on Gautreau's mind. His stats are far better now than during his Mobile season. Successful battles are ones that are not talked about.

The mentality even extends to a players demeanor in the dugout. Stewing over the last at bat can have a negative effect on the rest of your game. Soon you are booting balls or making errors that you would never make if your head was in the game.

"I just stay loose and joke around with the guys. I am not the main center of attention. I like to have a good time and mess around with the guys."

Not to be forgotten is the ulcerative that Gautreau struggles with daily. It is a condition that can only be cured through surgery.

"It was a struggle this year. It flared up a few times. It makes it pretty tough, but right now I am totally healthy. I went and saw a doctor right before I came out to the Fall league and we talked for a while and he told me what he wanted to do and I am on some new medication so, so far so good. I am trying to start this new diet and like I said I am healthy and hopefully it continues."

Medication is the key to curtailing it at his age, which explains his stance on surgery.

"Guys my age don't have surgery (for it). Later on down the road, they say 12-15 years later on if you are still having this problem I is considered. Rolf Benirschke, the kicker for the Chargers, he had it a few years ago and it really worked well for him, but he was a lot older than I am. It is an option down the road."

As he struggles through the rough times in his career he knows he can always look one place: "My family," Gautreau says. "They back me 100%. They have always been very supportive."

Support from friends and family is part of the battle. Gautreau, by continuing to work on his game is hoping to win the war.

Notes:

We continue talking with Jake Gautreau tomorrow to find out how Rob Deer has helped his game, how he chooses his lumber and what kind of hitter he is. Tune in.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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