Morel's struggles and the No. 2 spot

Morel's struggles and the No. 2 spot
April 20, 2012, 5:17 pm
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Brent Morel went 0-4 with four strikeouts on Opening Day, in which he hit second. The following game, Morel was dropped to eighth in the Sox order with Brent Lillibridge drawing a walk in four plate appearances in the two-hole. On that Sunday against Texas, Morel was given the day off and Gordon Beckham hit second, going 1-3 with a walk.

Morel returned to the No. 2 spot the next day, remaining there until he got a reprieve Thursday against Baltimore. His lines in between were: 1-5, 0-3 (1BB), 1-3, 1-3 (1BB), 0-4, 1-3, 1-5, 0-5. As a No. 2 hitter, Morel has struck out 18 times in 40 trips to the plate. For someone whose bat-handling skills were listed as a main reason why he would hit second, that's not good. And it's much, much worse for someone who showed so much promise last September.

A concern is that Morel's struggles are related to his spot in the order -- in other words, the duties that come along with hitting second. Unfortunately, No. 2 hitters are usually asked to hit behind runners, which means if Alejandro De Aza is on base, Morel's expected to punch the ball to the right side.

Given what Morel said at SoxFest about his September surge of 2011, that doesn't sound like the best strategy.

"I was just caught up trying to put the ball in play and just kinda move guys over and do that kind of stuff," Morel said of his pre-September approach. "Toward the end, I relaxed a little bit and was more selective and patient up there. That helped me out."

If Morel's caught up in trying to put the ball in play this year, it isn't showing -- his 41 percent strikeout rate is the highest of any starter on the Sox. But Morel's swung at plenty of bad pitches and, most notably, has only pulled two balls to the outfield all year (chart via Texas Leaguers):

Morel's eight-homer September was fueled by pulling the ball, along with better plate discipline. Right now, Morel isn't pulling the ball, nor is he displaying good plate discipline.

Hitting coach Jeff Manto, though, doesn't see Morel's 2012 issues as being the product of his spot in the lineup.

"Once the game starts, you become a hitter -- every inning, the order changes," Manto said Thursday. "I don't think he's trying to do anything different because he's in the two-hole. I know that if all goes well -- De Aza gets a hit, steals second and he moves the ball, then yeah, that becomes normal. But that might happen in the fifth inning, in the sixth inning if he's hitting in the two-hole, three-hole or four-hole. He is the hitter who he is, no matter where he is in the lineup."

Essentially, Manto's saying Morel would have the same duties associated with the No. 2 spot -- moving guys along, basically -- no matter where he hits. That makes sense, although it doesn't make sense to have Morel concentrate on putting the ball in play andor hitting to the right side.

Morel has the ability to be a productive offensive player for the White Sox. That much he proved at the tail end of last year. And, fair or not, that level (or, more realistically, one somewhat close to it) of offensive production is what Morel will strive for.

"He's been trying to get to that feel of last year, so to speak, and has always been trying to get to that feel," Manto said. "We're looking at the ball. We're looking to hit the ball and let the mechanics and everything else take care of itself. We talk about it all the time, the most important thing is the ball and not the mechanics."

So don't expect Morel to have his stanceswing tweaked a la Gordon Beckham. But maybe he could pull Manto's quote of "we're looking at the ball" and go from there, not worrying about where the ball ends up.

That's what he did last September, and that's what he'll have to do to pull himself out of his struggles and give the Sox a viable No. 2 hitter.