McLouth corrects his vision with contacts
Poor sight a partial explanation for outfielder's late slump in '09
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Nate McLouth struggled to read road signs as he traveled north on I-75 from Atlanta to his Michigan residence, he knew that he was dealing with something more than the fatigue produced by the 15-inning regular-season finale that immediately preceded this 12-hour drive.
McLouth's long journey that delivered him to Michigan during the wee hours of Oct. 5 confirmed the center fielder's belief that his vision changed toward the end of last season. A few days later, he traveled to the University of Michigan and was prescribed corrective lenses for the first time in his life.
"I got to the point where I thought something was wrong, but I didn't want to say anything," McLouth said. "I knew contacts were hard to get used to, so it wasn't something that I wanted to start at the end of the season."
McLouth reported to Atlanta's Spring Training camp on Friday comfortable with the feel of his contact lenses and determined to improve on the showing he provided after the Braves acquired him from the Pirates on June 3.
Along with dealing with vision problems, McLouth spent the final two months of the season sidelined by a left hamstring strain that he suffered during an Aug. 7 game in Los Angeles. He also missed some time in June with this same ailment, which limited his range in the outfield and prevented him from being the stolen-base threat he had been in 2008, when he was successful with 23 of his 26 attempts.
"When you come to a new team, the last thing that you want is to be injured," McLouth said. "It was tough and put me in a bad mood every day. I just wanted to come and contribute. I lost all my explosiveness with that. I'm not saying I'm the most explosive player, but that is a big part of my game and that was gone. It was tough mentally, too, to just know that it wasn't there."
Coming off an All-Star and Gold Glove season in Pittsburgh, McLouth arrived in Atlanta with high expectations. But in 84 games with the Braves, he hit .257, compiled 11 homers and proved successful with just 12 of his 18 stolen-base attempts.
McLouth's inconsistencies at the plate were seemingly a product of the vision problems he experienced under the stadium's bright lights. In 351 at-bats during night games, he hit .239 with a .751 OPS. In 156 at-bats during day games, he hit .295 and compiled an .871 OPS.
The vision also proved to be a deterrence from a defensive perspective as McLouth found it hard to see the signals that the catcher was providing pitchers. These signals aid him as he positions himself to where a hitter is most likely to direct a pitch.
"During the day, it was OK," McLouth said. "But at night, when there's a lot of lights, things kind of blurred together. Now with the contacts, it has been great."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.