New batting stance should help Yasmani Grandal

PEORIA, Ariz. — The annual rites of spring training, traditions steeped in perennial sunshine, include a whole lot of newness. New body. New approach. New swing. All the talk of fresh beginnings can get overbearing, to the point of becoming stale.

There are the exceptions, the alterations unveiled in February that can lead to real change in, say, April and May.

Such as the latest development for Yasmani Grandal, this one coming at — not behind — the plate. Less than eight months removed from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, the catcher has adopted a new batting stance in hopes of recapturing his form of 2012, when he debuted with the Padres to rave reviews.

The changes — which are significant, if not drastic — are, too, driven by necessity.

“The main thing that we did this offseason was figure out a way to not put too much pressure on my knee,” said the switch-hitting Grandal, “...something that could put the knee in the right spot soon, so that whenever you get that vigorous turn, it doesn’t damage anything.”

Gone is the leg kick, replaced by a toe tap. Lowered is the starting point of the hands, now down to Grandal’s midsection. The overall movement is quieter and, simultaneously, more conscious.

“I was more of a guy who would get the timing just body-wise — my hands would go back by themselves,” Grandal said. “This year, with the change and not having the leg kick, now we gotta work the hands more, make sure they get to the right spot.”

When Washington’s Anthony Rendon slid into Grandal’s right knee last July, inadvertently tearing the ACL, the immediate concern was for Grandal’s ability to perform his primary task, the squatting and bending sure to test any rehabilitating catcher.

Thus far this spring, Grandal has been passing those challenges, making a full return by the season opener, indeed, an actual possibility.

The other half of his recovery, the turning and twisting, has similarly produced encouraging results. Tuesday, Grandal continued his spring run of impressive batting practices, launching shots over the fence at the Peoria Sports Complex’s practice field with regularity.

“I hit a ball over the top of the batter’s eye here. I don’t think I’ve ever done that,” said Grandal, who calls his swing the best it’s been in two years. “I think (my swing is) gonna be more compact, more powerful. I might have more extra-base hits this year.”

In other words, the hope is for a return to two seasons ago. As a rookie, Grandal hit .297 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in 60 games.

Last season’s encore, spoiled by suspension and injury, saw him hit .216 with one home run in 28 games.

“This year,” Grandal said, “I gotta concentrate on staying on my back foot a lot, just so that I get that stress out of the front knee. Actually, I think it’s gonna work out great, because that’s one of the things that I used to do. First year in the big leagues, I did it great. Then last year, it just didn’t click.

“There’s times that that happens, especially when you start getting a little tired — obviously, your legs don’t work as much. So I think that’s the one thing that’s gonna help me out the most this year, to drive the ball.”

Assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell has been working with Grandal on his new stance since Jan. 1.

“He’s in a better place now with the timing,” Powell said. “He’s able to simplify some things and make it easier for him to repeat his swing.”

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