PHOENIX — If it was his choice — and let’s be clear it is not — Nick Ahmed would place himself ninth, slotted behind rather than in front of the pitcher, in the lineup.
“Just with speed I can get on base and use that speed a little bit more efficiently and steal bases and do some different things out there,” he said. “It also gets me closer to hitting in front of guys like Goldy and guys at the top of the lineup, so I’m going to score a lot more runs.”
And that’s exactly what has happened.
Through the first three games, Ahmed leads the D-backs with four runs scored — all with him hitting ninth — one spot behind that day’s starter.
Batting ninth has also agreed with Ahmed in terms of average, hits and total bases. His .545 mark is tops on the team, while he’s tied for first in hits (six) and second in total bases (10).
Ahmed, who didn’t record his sixth hit until game No. 14 last season and finished the year with a .226 average, said he’s getting thrown to differently with the pitcher batting ahead of him, but he was also quick to point out “it’s only been a few games.”
“You’re not going to get pitched around as much when you got a guy like (Jean) Segura who’s swinging the bat really well behind you,” he said. “Especially situations with guys in scoring position and guys on base, you’re going to get more pitches to hit, hopefully.”
Of course when Ahmed walked into the clubhouse on Thursday he found his name in the eight-hole, ahead of the pitcher, for the series opener against the Chicago Cubs.
Manager Chip Hale explained the change had everything to do with starter Rubby De La Rosa.
“I really feel comfortable with (Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin) in the eight-hole, Rubby not so comfortable with it and Robbie (Ray) we’ll see,” Hale said. “I just want Rubby to show me he can handle the bat a little better then maybe we’ll change it around.”
For Ahmed, his early-season success is not only a byproduct of a strong spring training — he batted .433 (29-for-67) with two home runs and 12 RBI in 21 Cactus League games — but a carryover from late last season, according to Hale.
Ahmed ended 2015 hitting .333 (15-for-45) in 16 games in September, including four multi-hit efforts.
“His two-strike approach — they worked on this spring — has changed a lot of his at-bats, where it looks like the first couple of swings he still looks with that long swing and all of sudden he’s able to shorten it up and use that right side of the field,” Hale said. “That was something last year, when he was going well, he would hit the ball to the right-center gap, get some triples, but he had a hard time late in the count actually doing that, staying to the right side, where he’s shown — in the first three games at least — that he can do it.”
Ahmed had two hits in each of the first three games; Segura, too.
They became the seventh and eighth hitters in club history to do so.
“It might be a surprise to other people, but I know the work I’ve put in,” Ahmed said, “and I know how much I’ve gotten better and the improvements I’ve made along with the coaching staff really giving me some good advice and tips here and there.”
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