At his offensive peak – which you could roughly guess being at the start of June, 2013 when he was hitting over .350 – Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura was acutely self-aware of himself as a hitter. He never boasted about his success, or suggested it was owed to him. He had confidence, of course, but knew major league pitchers were going to find his holes, his weaknesses.
This winter, standing with his arms folded in the bowels of the Wisconsin Center during Brewers On Deck, he anticipated the new ways he would be attacked after an all-star campaign.
Anticipating your opponents to make an adjustment – and expecting yourself to counter – is one thing, but the execution has proven to be another. This year, Segura’s high-water mark for batting average is .274, last seen back on May 30. He wasn’t hitting the ball to center and right field with authority, often rolling over pitches with weak ground balls.
"I’ve been working hard all year long," Segura said. "It’s tough. Being there every day as a young guy to play at that level, you need to be comfortable and you need to be prepared mentally because you’ve got to believe you’ve got the tools to play here. That’s why they bring me here."
Manager Ron Roenicke tried moving him to various spots in the lineup – hitting him leadoff, second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. Nothing seemed to be clicking.
As the all-star break neared, Roenicke offered up that Segura had decided to tweak his approach.
"There’s some things mechanically that he thinks he can do to help himself that way," Roenicke said on July 8. "The hard part is to change things during the season because when mechanically and physically, when you change something, it takes a long time to get comfortable with it and it’s hard to do it when you’re fighting and scratching and trying to get hits and now mechanically you’re changing something, it’s not easy."
Then, three days later, tragedy struck – after a 1-for-4 performance in a loss to St. Louis, Segura was informed after the game his infant son had passed away in the Dominican Republic. He immediately left the team, and there was no immediate timetable for his return.
But he surprised the team by saying he would be back for the first series after the break, in Washington. Roenicke and general manager Doug Melvin came away from their conversation with him feeling good about his state of mind, that he was back in the game mentally.
"I think he is," Roenicke said. "He’s still going to have those times when he thinks about it, but I liked when he first came back. I thought it was really important for him to know that the team was behind him and when Doug and I sat down with him I thought it was a really good conversation."
Segura was back in the starting lineup on July 18 in Washington.
"It was a tough week and for my family too, but I needed to come here and work and try to do the best I can to help the team win," Segura said. "I don’t let anything bother me during the game."
Beginning with that last game against St. Louis and through Wednesday night at Miller Park, Segura had hit in six of his last seven games (.280 average) with four extra base hits.
It’s a process that begins in batting practice, where he is focusing on hitting the ball hard to center and to right field.
"That’s comfortable," he said. "And get that feel; that helped me to get through to this thing."
As a result, the ball is once again coming off his bat with force. Even his ground ball out to shortstop Tuesday night was hard hit.
"The ball’s coming off well," Roenicke said. "He’s hitting balls hard to both gaps and he has the last few games. And I don’t see too many of the bad swings, the ball that he flips over and hits straight down to the ground. I’m hoping that he comes out of this thing and gets the swing back, gets the confidence back and then we see that good offensive player."
During the season, Roenicke hasn’t worried so much about Segura’s confidence – at least not the point where it was a pressing concern – but did see the frustration take its toll. But at least outwardly, the 24-year-old remains sure of the end result.
"It’s going to come. It’s going to come," he said. "I know what kind of hitter I am. I’m a good hitter. It’s just ‘take your time, one day at a time’ and I’ll be good. I’ll be good."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.