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Steady mindset, patience help lead Matt Mervis to first career home run

1 year agoAndy Martinez

HOUSTON — There was almost as much relief as there was satisfaction after Matt Mervis hit his first career home run Tuesday night against the Astros.

“Felt good,” Mervis said after the Cubs’ 7-3 loss. “Obviously that’s something that you try not to think about, but that’s also part of the reason why I’m here. Just get it out of the way and now it’s not a thought anymore.”

It had been a slow start to Mervis’ big-league career — in 34 plate appearances before Tuesday’s game, Mervis had a .515 OPS with 1 extra-base hit, a 41.2% strikeout rate and a 43 weighted runs created plus.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating, but at the same time, it’s been … however many games it’s been,” Mervis said. “These stretches happen, and they’re gonna happen throughout my career.”

The one thing he’s learned when faced with cold streaks is the benefits that come from it.

“Frustration for me leads to adjustments and hopefully future success,” Mervis said. “But at the same time, I kind of have to take it with a grain of salt that it’s [32] at-bats, I’m not gonna freak out about it.”

Part of the struggles stemmed from the natural adjustment period that comes for a minor leaguer; it was highly unlikely that Mervis would come up and immediately post a .962 OPS or 138 wRC+ as he did in the minors. Some of that, too, was due to the tough pitching he’s faced — Sandy Alcántara, Sonny Gray, Edward Cabrera and Cristian Javier don’t necessarily qualify as a soft landing.

“I try not to give the pitcher too much credit but at the same time, we have faced really good pitchers,” Mervis said before the game. “So, I’m trying to find a balance there. But I’ve helped them out. I’ve swung at some bad pitches and gotten out of my approach.”

That is part of the adjustment he’s learned in his short time up in the big leagues. He’s leaned on teammates like Eric Hosmer and Nico Hoerner and they’ve stressed the importance of sticking to their approach and plan and not veering away from what makes him who he is as a hitter.

Tuesday night, he showed more plate discipline, stronger poise in the batter’s box and ability to jump on pitches that are in his sweet spot — all the traits that have allowed him to have success in the minors and that have defined who he is.

“I thought he took some off-speed pitches that looked really well and jumped on the heaters when he had to,” manager David Ross said. “Really good at-bats for him tonight.”

In the 2nd inning, Mervis took a fastball way out of the zone for a ball, then jumped on a four-seamer that clipped the inner part of the zone, hitting it 110.7 mph and clanking it off the right field foul pole for his first home run.

In his second at-bat, Mervis took a third-pitch slider just outside the top of the zone for a ball — a pitch that could’ve been easy to want to take a hack at, but he showed discipline to take the pitch. In his last at-bat, he took a slider down and away for a strike, then took a slider down and out of the zone for a ball — two pitches that he knew he likely wouldn’t do damage on. On the third pitch, he got a fastball middle-middle and roped it for a single to center field.

“Just trying to swing at the right pitches,” Mervis said. “I got a lot of pitches in the strike zone today, so I wasn’t very passive, I was swinging the bat and I felt good, so just letting it fly.”

In the long run, the ability to pounce on fastballs in the zone and spit on off-speeds intended for him to chase is what’s going to allow him to have success going forward.

“Just trying to see the ball earlier,” Mervis said. “Just trying to get my timing down and see the ball for as long as I can and I think I did a good job of that today.”

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