Jupiter, Fla. — If you don’t know by now how valuable Andrew Romine is to the Tigers, you should listen to manager Brad Ausmus talk about him.
“People don’t understand,” Ausmus said before the game here Tuesday. “There are so many numbers out there in today’s game — OPS, ERA-plus, all that stuff. But guys like Romine can be the difference between a winning team and a non-winning team, a losing team.
“They can do so much and they give the manager a lot of flexibility in terms of resting players, pinch-running for players, defending for players — he’s an insurance policy late in games if something were to happen to any of the position players.”
Ausmus has shown the last two seasons that he trusts Romine to play any position other than pitcher and catcher, at any point in any game.
“He’s a huge asset,” Ausmus said. “I hate to say it, but he’d probably be a bigger asset in the National League. But I don’t want him to go anywhere. He’s as good as they come defensively.”
Imagine, then, how much his value increases if he becomes a more productive hitter. Romine has taken significant strides toward making that happen. Romine is hitting .333 this spring, with a .515 slugging percentage (three doubles and a home run).
Getting extended playing time with Ian Kinsler gone and both Jose Iglesias and Nick Castellanos missing games with minor soreness, Romine in the last five games has posted seven hits in 16 at-bats.
So what’s the difference?
“Just swinging harder,” he said.
Well, there’s more to it than that. During the off-season, after consulting with his brother (Yankees catcher Austin) and his father (former big-leaguer Kevin), Romine did some video work.
“I tried to figure out where my swing differed from somebody’s that I liked, someone who was doing it right,” Romine said. “So I put my video next to theirs, side by side, just to try and pick out where mine started to change versus theirs.”
He compared his swing to a bunch of hitters — J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Nolan Arenado of the Rockies and Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox among them. Here’s what he learned.
“I didn’t really change my swing path or my mechanics,” Romine said. “It was just trying to get through the ball a little more instead of cutting off my swing. Instead of getting to contact and pulling off the ball, I get to contact and through.”
The change was directional in nature. Instead of getting to a certain point in his swing and finishing off to the side, he now strives to finish out more toward the pitcher. It’s still a work in progress, he said, but he’s liking the early results.
“The video I’m watching is showing that I am getting closer to what I want,” he said. “I am getting close to the right kind of swing.”
The task, tough to start with, is complicated further by being a switch-hitter.
“Some days I’m just completely off on one side,” he said. “It’s just not working right.”
He’s a natural right-handed hitter, but he said the change has come more naturally to him from the left side. Still, changing muscle memory that’s been built up since you first starting playing the game takes time.
“It’s a fine line between trying to do something at the plate versus just letting your work take over,” he said. “It’s day to day for me right now. I could feel good one day and then show up the next and it’s like, ‘Oh, man, it doesn’t feel right. I’ve got to do more cage work and lock back in with some drills just to get my head back into this thing.’ ”
It’s one thing, Romine said, to feel comfortable with the change during batting practice or soft-toss in the cage. It’s quite another to trust it in live action.
“You can make adjustments in mid-swing in the cage or in BP,” he said. “If it’s coming in game speed, you just, whatever you were practicing, whatever your body memorized, that’s what’s going to happen in the less than a second you have.
“It’s really hard to change something you’ve been doing for 30 years, and to train yourself so you can do it in less than a second.”
So far, though, he is making it work.