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Now healthy, D-backs SS Nick Ahmed proving he’s a threat with a bat

Arizona Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed (13) watches his grand slam during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

Shortstop Nick Ahmed’s defensive value for the Arizona Diamondbacks has been proven over and over since he debuted in 2014.

He ranks in the top-10 of all MLB players with 14 defensive runs saved this year, according to FanGraphs, and once again he’s forced Arizona to use him as an everyday starter regardless of his offensive abilities. It just so happens that Ahmed’s best offensive season as a major leaguer is only the cherry on top.

“You always have expectations coming into a new season. I think the main thing I wanted to do this year is stay healthy,” he told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “God’s blessed me with some really good health this year and I feel better than I ever have, so I’m thankful for that.

“But from a performance standpoint as well, I’ve done some things especially offensively that most people would say that they could be surprised at or (I) haven’t done in the past, but I always expect myself to perform offensively. I’m just trying to get a little bit better every day.”

Ahmed appeared in only 53 games a year ago after suffering a broken hand and then, in a rehab game, was hit in the same wrist by a pitch, adding another fracture to recover from. With his season shortened, perhaps people forgot he was on track to set career highs by batting .251 and recording 21 RBI — his career high was 34 in 2015 — about a third of the way through a season.

The success has continued in 2018.

Ahmed has tallied 57 RBI and 16 home runs through 108 games while batting .243.

“Our hitting coach Dave Magadan sometimes will drop the line, ‘That was a swing with bad intentions'” Ahmed told Doug & Wolf on Friday. “I’m definitely doing more of that. I’m going up to the plate with the intention of driving the baseball, not just swinging to put it in play or going up there and being defensive. I’m going up there with a really offensive mindset, really hunting a specific pitch in the middle of the plate.

“I’m trying to do damage every time I go up there. I’m not trying to buy into this, really, launch angle, high fly ball, home run-or-nothing approach.”

That said, the statistics substantiate Ahmed’s aggression is paying off in all kinds of ways. His home run per fly ball percentage was never beyond 7.3 percent (2015) until it jumped to 14.6 percent last year and 15.8 percent in 2018.

Ahmed has also adjusted to improve his success against right-handed pitchers.

A career .209 hitter against righties, he’s improved to bat .225 against them this season. Per FanGraphs, Ahmed’s line drive percentage (25.8 percent) is a career-high, while his hard-hit percentage has increased in each of the last two years — from 27.3 in 2016 to 32 percent last year to 39.7 percent this season.

With one more walk, he’ll set a career high of 30 walks in a single season as well.

“I’ve simplified things. I’m going up to the plate with a better plan, a better idea of what I’m trying to do and how to attack the pitcher, especially right-handed pitching — I’ve never really hit right-handed pitching well in my career,” Ahmed said. “But I’ve kind of retooled and developed some things over the last couple months that have really helped me do that and get to a spot where I can really see the ball well consistently and just take that aggressive swing.”

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