Caught in a timing warp at the plate, Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay swore off video last week, stopped looking at clips of that day's opposing pitcher and sought comfort in the only tool he could trust to reset his swing.
He grabbed a batting tee and started from scratch.
"When you're going bad there are so many things going wrong that I said I'm going to go into the cage and back to basics," Jay said. "Hitting the ball to left field. That's been my bread and butter since I was a little kid. When I'm doing that, good things happen."
Good things such as a career-high four hits Sunday as Jay delivered the first two runs of the Cardinals' 7-0 victory against the Cubs.
Jay snapped a lingering funk with his four-for-four game at Busch Stadium, raising his batting average from .289 to .304 in a single afternoon. His two-run, two-out double in the first inning went to left field, his next two singles went to left field, and his fourth hit was a slow hopper that found a soft spot on, yep, the left side of the infield.
Jay, who had been hitting .213 since returning from a shoulder injury that had put him on the disabled list, said his struggles at the plate reached a point that the only solution was to start over. He stopped looking at his past at-bats for clues on what went wrong or what was right. He stopped scanning video of opposing pitchers so that he didn't cloud his head with a different approach every day. Instead, he retreated to the cage with hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Mabry and went back to the drills he uses when first starting to hit in the offseason.
Timing was the trick.
When the Cardinals drafted Jay out the University of Miami in 2006, scouts described how he had an unorthodox approach at the plate, but when the pitch arrived, it worked to hit for a high average. Jay had a vigorous hand pump, and there was concern that it might lead to a loop in his swing. He called it his "helicopter hands" because of how they rotate before settling down. He tried to stop the pump entirely in the minors, but returned to a reduced version of it as he reached the majors.
"That swing has a lot of stuff going on it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said this weekend as he gave Jay a break from the lineup to find his timing. "It's not like he can have somebody tell him, 'Hey, you're doing this.' You can break it down film-wise, but it's a feeling that comes from the right timing. When you have a lot of moving parts in a swing, it's a lot of maintenance. When he gets it right, it's pretty dynamic."
Jay, who separated his shoulder crashing into the wall earlier this season, insisted there was nothing inhibiting his swing physically.
The time off to heal had thrown off his rhythm. He had become jumpy at the plate, less still as the pitcher delivered the pitch, and, he said Sunday, pulled off some of the pitches. By going back to the tee, he was able to work on calming his stance and drive the ball to left field.
Cubs' starter Travis Wood played into his approach.
Wood, a lefty, had held lefthanded batters such as Jay to a .118 average and a .221 slugging percentage this season. Matheny wanted to get some regulars a breather Sunday and that forced him to use Jay; it also highlighted a statistical curiosity in his struggles. Since June 22, the day he returned from the disabled list, Jay was 10 for 50 (.200) against righthanded pitchers with a only two doubles. Against lefties, he had seven hits in his previous 21 at-bats before Sunday, and he was 11 for 25 (.440) after Sunday's win.
Jay said he was able to take advantage of Wood pitching on the outer third of the plate and drive the ball to ... left field. Jay drove a 2-2 pitch from Wood down the left-field line for the two-run double that put the Cardinals ahead 2-0 in the first inning.
"Looks like his timing is getting there," Matheny said. "Big day for his confidence without question. Hopefully, he can ride that for awhile."
Jay said the sensation he had at the plate had been "building for a couple days," but he cautioned that just because his swing produced results doesn't mean his swing is fixed. That doesn't happen in one game. It happens, he explained, when he's able to make corrections a lot quicker than he has this time.
"Sometimes, you lose it and it's one of those things you can't put a finger on," Jay said. "Look at guys on this team like Carlos (Beltran) and Matt (Holliday), guys who have a lot of success and are real consistent. They find a way to not let those times happen for a long time. That's what I'm trying to do now. Adjust. Get back on track."