Quiet and unassuming, Tampa first baseman Cody Ehlers has an even-keeled approach to his game and…
Ehlers Not Surprised By Power Surge
"No, no, no," Ehlers emphatically said when asked if he's surprised by his power surge this season. "Ever since I was old enough to swing a bat, home runs have always just come. I don't try to do it [hit home runs]. I don't try to do anything. I just try to hit the ball solid every time I swing the bat. If it goes, it goes. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It's just the way it always has been."
With just 13 home runs in 610 professional at-bats entering the season, Ehlers hadn't exactly shown the type of power he displayed as a fourth year senior with the University of Missouri when he hit 18 home runs in just 231 at-bats - that is, until this season. So what's different in 2006?
"Right now, what's working for me is just consistency," Tampa first baseman Cody Ehlers told us. "Last year was a good first full year for me. I got my feet wet and I got to play everyday. That got my confidence up. This year [I'm] getting more mature and older and learning the daily grind of an entire season. I'm just trying to stay consistent and have the same approach everyday."
That same approach has allowed Ehlers to his safely in 21 of his 29 games this season, and he hasn't gone any longer than two games without a hit. His approach at the plate has impressed the Tampa coaching staff.
"He's taking a professional approach right now," Tampa Hitting Coach James Rowson told us. "Every at-bat, he's going up there and getting a good pitch to hit. He's not swinging at a lot outside the zone and he's getting a lot of count leverage. He's not finding himself in a lot of 0-2 [counts] but in 3-1 [counts]."
"If he's got two strikes, a lot of times it is because he's fouled off a bunch of pitches prior to getting to that point and there's not really a pitch that the pitcher can throw by him."
As good as Ehlers is going right now at the plate, the fact remains that his power hitting has increased this year, all in a notorious pitching friendly league like the Florida State League. He must be doing something different, right?
"Not really," Ehlers said when asked if there is anything different in his preparation this year. "In the beginning of the year your body feels good. You're not broken down from playing months on end and that's why a lot of guys get off to hot starts, because you feel good. This year, along with the hot start, hopefully I can keep my body healthy and rested. You just want to make sure you're doing the little things, like eating right and working out, right so you can feel strong the whole year."
With eight multi-hit games, eight doubles, and eight home runs so far, it just seems Ehlers is seeing the ball bigger and better than most at the plate.
"At times it looks like that," Tampa's hitting coach said how it looks like Ehlers is hitting a beach ball out there. "It looks the same way to me sometimes when I'm watching him. It looks amazing what he does and then you go back and look at it, you realize his preparation before the game and he knows what he's looking for. Right now he goes up there looking for a certain pitch and he's successful."
"He's not going up there looking to cover the whole plate," Rowson continued. "He's got a plan and obviously the pitchers are getting behind him in the count and he's forcing them into his plan. Rather than being in two-strike counts and getting into their plan, they have to work into his plan now. He's definitely taking advantage of it."
While Ehlers is pleased with most aspects of his game at the current time, he realizes there is still room for improvement.
"Right now my strike zone awareness is okay," Ehlers humbly said. "It's not as good as it was last year. Last year I had more walks a little bit better eye at the plate. You always see the guys that hit a lot of home runs always have a lot of strikeouts, but I'v never been that kind of guy. Even though I've had pretty good power in the past, I've never been a big strikeout guy. Maybe in another month or so I'll be pull-swing as far as strikezone awareness goes."
Playing like a man on a mission, it's tough to tell if something like the departure of John Urick gave him any sort of inspiration or confidence this year.
"That's a tough deal," Ehlers said of John Urick's release, " because that was a guy nobody expected to get released. I mean, he's a good player. So if you can take it any [particular] way, you could say if he's good player and I'm a good player, and he got released, it could happen to anybody."
Working on his consistency is something Ehlers and the Yankees realize he needs to do to avoid the pitfalls of 2005. Last season, Ehlers hit just four of his thirteen home runs after June. So while he has gotten off to a hot start in 2006, everybody's waiting to see if he can keep it up.
"Right now he's taking a solid approach in every at-bat," said Rowson. "It's good to see a young hitter able to take that approach in consecutive at-bats the way he is right now, and hopefully he'll keep it up throughout the year and his career."
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