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Cutters' Walding struggling like he never has before

July 21, 2012 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT

mrupert@sungazette.com

Mitch Walding stood in middle of the right-field corner batting cage, face-to-face with Phillies minor league hitting instructor Steve Henderson. The Williamsport third baseman received his last bit of instruction and encouragement from Henderson, who had a smile on his face the whole time, before Henderson patted his face and sent a dejected-looking Walding toward the clubhouse.

The 19-year old California native is struggling through the worst slump of his life. Prior to Saturday’s game against State College, Walding was 0 for his last 17 with nine strikeouts. It’s a stark contrast to the hot streak Walding had to his first professional season.

He hit .383 in 12 games in June with four extra-base hits. In 16 July games, Walding is hitting just .200 with 18 strikeouts, two-thirds of his season total.

“You know, I was lost at the plate. I definitely was,” Walding said after an extra soft-toss session in the batting cage with Henderson, Crosscutters manager Andy Tracy and hitting coach Rafael DeLima. “I felt really uncomfortable. It’s weird to go from doing really well to not feeling good at all. It’s something I’m trying to get back and I’m starting to feel a lot better now.”

Walding has always been harder on himself than any coach could ever have been. Even when he was going through his best of stretches this year, such as when he drove in 10 runs over three games in the first week, Walding would still slam his helmet or his bat down after what he would call a sub-par batting practice session.

It’s something he’s trying to change about his demeanor. He’s trying to point out the positives in each at-bat so he has something to build on. After an 0 for 4 night against State College on Thursday, Walding was pointing to a fly ball he hit just short of the warning track the other way as something to build on.

Even in a game where the best players are failing 70 percent of the time, Walding is a perfectionist. He wants to get a hit every time he steps foot in the batter’s box.

During this tough stretch, though, Walding has struggled just to make solid contact. He’s been watching strikes he was mashing the first two weeks of the season. In Thursday’s game he watched fastballs for strikes and got caught swinging at breaking balls in the dirt in his two strikeouts.

“I always get mad at a lot of stuff, but I’m trying to get away from that and be more positive,” Walding said. “I’m trying to get away from being so upset with what I do. I put myself in a position to have high standards. I have to try and accept a little bit of failure because you’re going to fail most of the time. I’m just trying to accept that and get back to the positives.”

That doesn’t mean Walding is accepting this rough stretch as the new norm. It just means he’s accepting that he isn’t going to have a 1.000 batting average.

Walding was in the cage following batting practice Friday with Henderson, Tracy and DeLima working on getting his swing started a little earlier. Henderson sat on a chair facing Walding as the 6-foot-3 third baseman giving him different types of tosses to simulate getting his swing started earlier on fastballs and breaking balls.

The struggles have really been more with little things than giant gaping problems, Walding said. But those little problems have added up to being big problems. He feels that some of the problems can be alleviated with getting his swing started sooner.

Walding was also working last week on changing his stride. His naturally closed batting stance often causes his stride to go toward third base. DeLima and a number of minor league coordinators have been working with Walding on consciously making his stride more toward the pitcher to better get to inside pitches.

“Then I can see the fastball better and work on hitting the ball inside instead of letting it go by for strike three,” Walding said. “It’s really just little things, but little things end up being big things. Hopefully it turns around and starts working for me.”

As frustrating as the struggles have been for Walding, he knows all the positive results he had the first two weeks of the season weren’t a fluke. He knows he can get back to that point.

He definitely wasn’t prepared for the switch to flip as quickly as it did to go from leading the New York-Penn League in hitting and RBIs to watching his batting average fall more than 100 points. As he said, this definitely wasn’t “what he had planned.”

But it’s part of the process Tracy so often talks about. Learning to make adjustments and learning to adjust to struggles that inevitably will come with this game no matter how talented a player.

“There hasn’t been a point in time where I’ve struggled like this before,” Walding said. “So this is definitely something I have to learn from and I have to grow as a person.”

 
 

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