Venable working to eliminate self-doubt
Promising outfielder adjusting plate mechanics, psyche
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's not as if San Diego hitting coaches Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell are perturbed or even slightly annoyed in the least by the sheer volume of questions levied by outfielder Will Venable.
It's the type of questions Venable asks that they would like to hear less of, the questions often fueled by self-doubt and uncertainty. The credence held by Plantier and Powell is that these types of questions are unnecessary and unwarranted.
Venable himself even knows this to be true. But he also knows old habits are hard to break. This is why his reconstructed swing isn't the only thing that's a work in progress in Arizona. His psyche is also getting a much-needed facelift as well.
"I've asked them a lot of questions," Venable said of Plantier and Powell, both in their first season with the team. "If I ask them what I did wrong on a swing, they will tell me not to worry about it and instead focus on the five good swings that I just took. For me, it's not focusing on the bad stuff.
Venable, leaning up against a wall in a quiet hallway, pauses.
For Venable, who at 29 is entering a critical season in his development, the questions have to change. Instead of asking what went wrong, he knows his singular focus has to be on what's going right.
So far this spring, several things are working in Venable's favor. You have to get far beyond his .350 average to see them. His work with Plantier during the winter at Petco Park is beginning to pay off. Same goes for those cool Arizona mornings when he huddles in the cage with Plantier and Powell.
He's working to eliminate his double toe-tap with the front foot in his stride, which has caused him problems in the past. Venable is also trying to quiet his bat while in his stance instead of anxiously waiving it back and forth while awaiting a pitch.
"I feel in control for the first time in a long time," said Venable, who projects as the starting right fielder on Opening Day. "And regardless of the results and hits, it's just nice to have good swings and take swings at pitches I wanted to swing at. Hopefully, I'm in better touch."
The Padres certainly hope so. They have high hopes for Venable, as they did a year ago at this time, when he entered the season coming off a year when he hit 13 home runs and stole 29 bases while playing a plus right field, not an easy proposition at Petco Park.
But Venable got off to a slow start, hitting .205 in April. In all fairness, his teammates were as cold as he was offensively, which was a big reason why the Padres struggled early. Then On May 23, the Padres optioned him to Triple-A Tucson, the first time since he joined the team in September of 2009 when he had to take a step back for anything other than an injury.
Venable was recalled on June 9 and spent the rest of the season with the team. He hit .250 during the second half, all while trying to find a level of comfort with his swing and his mindset that would allow him to be consistently successful.
Venable believes he's finally found that with Plantier and Powell. His manager has noticed a difference, too. The tangible results show up (or don't) in a box score. But there's more to it than that.
"The thing I like about Will right now is that he looks the same in the box every at-bat," Bud Black said. "The stance, the approach. That's good. He just needs to believe in that over time and not change it over a small sample size of results.
"With Will, it's trust in the things he's working on. I think a lot of it is pitch selection. As simple as it may sound: Swing at strikes, take balls. He's doing that, on balance, pretty good so far."
But spring hasn't offered enough time or nearly enough at-bats to make for much of a sample size. The proof that Venable has fully accepted and incorporated these changes won't really become evident until the regular season starts.
Venable said he's looking forward to it, maybe more so than any other Opening Day..
"I have high expectations for myself. I certainly haven't achieved those yet," Venable said. "In learning about myself, I realize that I am too hard on myself and focus on the negative stuff too much.
"In my mind, I want to weed out what I'm doing wrong so I can clean it up. But it's really not about that. You have to keep focusing on the good stuff and repeat that. If you do that, all the bad stuff will get out of there."