Rios learning to be patient at the plate
Outfielder drawing more walks, being pitched to more carefully
TORONTO -- It was the type of at-bat that can easily go unnoticed, but shouldn't be ignored. In the bottom of the ninth inning against the A's on Tuesday, Alex Rios stepped into the batter's box with the game on the line and brought the Blue Jays within one swing of a victory.
With two outs on the scoreboard and Oakland leading, 9-8, Rios refused to give in to A's closer Huston Street. Rios patiently watched an assortment of pitches fly by -- offerings that might've tempted him to swing in the past. This time, Toronto's right fielder drew a six-pitch walk, bringing the game-winning run to the plate.
Street eventually struck out Vernon Wells to end the game, stranding Rios on first base in the process. Even so, Rios' willingness to sacrifice a swing in order to put Toronto one step closer to a win was a great sign for the Jays. It's also an indication that pitchers are being more careful with Rios than in previous years.
"He was thrown some very tough pitches by Street and he didn't flinch," Blue Jays hitting coach Gary Denbo said. "He didn't expand his zone. He just kind of maintained his balance and it looked like he saw the ball really well. We're hoping that he continues to do that.
"That at-bat for me was as big as any of the home runs we hit, because, over the long term, for him to be able to have at-bats like that, with the guys he has coming up behind him, that's going to mean were going to be successful as a team."
Through Toronto's first eight games, Rios has drawn seven walks in 35 plate appearances, helping to bump his on-base percentage up to .457. It's a small sample size, but Rios is certainly on pace to eclipse his career-high walk total of 55 in 711 plate appearances last season.
Plate discipline and patience weren't necessarily top priorities entering the season for the 27-year-old Rios, but he's quick to grin when asked about the development. He believes the early walks are a result of the fact that pitchers are no longer providing him with easy offerings.
"I like to hit. I'm a guy that likes to hit," Rios said. "I'm not looking to walk, but if I don't get the right pitches to hit, I'm not going to swing at them, because that doesn't make sense.
"I've seen it this year a little more than years before. I'm not getting the same pitches I was getting last year or the year before. They are going around me more."
While that may be true, Toronto manager John Gibbons believes Rios is walking more because he's growing as a Major League hitter. Last season, Rios hit .297 with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs in 161 games for Toronto, which slotted him into the No. 3 hole of the lineup this season.
Rios, who signed a six-year contract extension worth $64 million with Toronto on Friday, has seen his numbers increase steadily over the past few seasons as he's gained experience, along with respect of opposing pitchers. The approach has helped him to a .321 average through the Jays' first eight games.
"Experience sometimes does that to you," Gibbons said. "He values [walks] now. A lot of times when you're young and trying to establish yourself, a lot of those guys are aggressive.
"He's just identifying what they're trying to do to him," he added. "That's something we didn't see in the past. All that says is the kid's mature and he's recognizing what's going on."
That was especially evident in the ninth inning on Tuesday.
"That at-bat he had last night was as good as you'll see anybody have," Denbo said. "It ended up being a walk and nobody really recognizes -- except for a few -- what a great at-bat he had."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.