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How a new routine from Cubs coaches has helped unlock Christopher Morel’s ability at DH

1 year agoAndy Martinez

Christopher Morel had the routine down — for better or worse.

As a designated hitter, when his at-bat ended in an out, he’d head straight back into the Cubs dugout.

“I wanted to go to the tablets that we have to try and see what happened in the at-bat — the bad things I was doing and try to correct them,” Morel said.

He’d notice the most minute of details — his hand placement, his footwork, his swing path, anything — and would then run straight down the stairs and head to the batting cages to try and fix whatever it was he found. Morel would try to overcorrect that one small issue he’d find — that had to be the problem, he would tell himself.

Morel would take countless swings to try and fix it — he wanted to make sure that whatever the issue was, it wouldn’t happen again. Morel had never started a game as a DH in the major leagues until this season. And as a DH, he could only help his team four or so times a day and he wanted to make sure he was at his best in each of those four turns at the plate.

“When you have an opportunity to deliver and fail, you want to like go check and make sure that in your next at-bat you don’t fail,” Morel said. “When I fail one at-bat or a second or third, I want to — and I’m getting better at this — get back the three that I failed in one at-bat. It’s impossible.”

But it was there he started to realize that that was part of the reason he was struggling. His issues at the plate weren’t because of his body movements or swing path.

“If you think about not failing, you fail. It’s things that are more mental than physical,” Morel said.

So, one day, assistant hitting coach Juan “Pipi” Cabreja, came up to him with a message.

Chamaco [the friendly, Spanish slang term for kid that Cabreja calls Morel] you seeing that puts way too many thoughts in your heads and you’re not focused on what you have to be focused on,” Cabreja told him.

When Cabreja speaks to Morel, he listens just a touch closer — Cabreja, after all, is like a father figure to Morel. So, Morel realized that the routine he had down wasn’t the right one to have as a designated hitter.

DH’ing wasn’t easy for Morel. It was new, different and one of the biggest challenges he’s faced so far in his young career — and that’s saying something given what he’s gone through. The mental side of being a DH was weighing on him.

“When you’re playing defense, you concentrate on defense. You don’t think about what you did in your last at-bat,” Morel said. “You’re concentrating on if they hit the ball here, I have to do this. If there’s someone on first, I have to do this. You’re thinking about defense. But when you’re DH’ing, the only thing you can do for your team is take at-bats.”

Morel’s splits as a DH, compared to when he plays on the field have been almost radical in his career. As a DH, he’s slashing .214/.261/.500 with 3 home runs. This season alone, he’s a .333/.389/.788 hitter with 9 home runs when he plays in the field.

[MORE: How a simple piece of advice from Dansby Swanson helped Christopher Morel find his groove again]

So, the challenge for Morel and the Cubs’ coaches was finding a way to get his mind off the mental side of DH’ing. Before the series finale against Pittsburgh on Thursday, Morel turned to first base coach Mike Napoli, who played 145 games in his big-league career as a DH, to try and find a new routine.

That routine meant keeping Morel off the tablets. Instead, Morel is in the dugout while the Cubs play defense, mimicking as if he were out on the field. When the Cubs were batting, he studied the opposing pitcher — how he attacked the Cubs, what he was leaning on and what he turned to in certain counts.

“That’s what Napoli wants me to do,” Morel said. “Instead of going inside, instead of trying to do too much to correct it, to stay active in the game as if I was playing defense.

Morel would also spend less time in the batting cage. He won’t head down until either he’s 4 or so batters away from hitting or due up the following inning. And when he’s down there in the cage, he’s not swinging away endlessly. Instead, he’s taking a few swings and when he connects on a ball where everything feels good and in sync, he’ll head back upstairs to watch the game and be ready to hit.

“It’s about 6 or 7 pitches,” Morel said. “I try to look for the rhythm, the timing, the contact where I’m like, ‘That’s the point I want to be at, now let’s go up.’”

The results were immediate — and eye-opening.

Thursday night, he was 3-for-3 with a triple and a go-ahead, 2-run single in the 5th inning as the DH.

“I know that was a struggle there for a little bit and how to maintain that,” David Ross said after that game. “Like just seemed real comfortable in the box in the DH role today probably for the first time in a little bit.”

Playing center field on Friday, Morel was 3-for-5 with a home run and a double. Sunday afternoon, he hit a 2-run home run as the DH.

Morel was a spark for the Cubs’ offense when he first came up. As he struggled as he adjusted to the DH role, that catalyst was seemingly gone from the Cubs’ lineup. Now, though, he might’ve just recaptured it. With Mike Tauchman seizing an opportunity in center field and Cody Bellinger returning from the IL at first base, DH is Morel’s to lose.

And if he can continue to thrive in his new routine and adjust mentally to the position — that’s a huge boon to the Cubs offense that could use some pop in the middle of the lineup.

“I’ve always put it in my head that there’s nothing that I can’t achieve, it’s just up here mentally,” Morel said pointing to his head.

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