Sam Hilliard’s teammates were shocked when he ricocheted a ball 434 feet at Citizens Bank Park on Sept. 9.
Ryan McMahon, after muttering some curse words that were caught on camera, even felt the need to apologize to his mother after for his reaction. But Hilliard wasn’t surprised. He actually thought it was going to go farther.
“That was pretty funny,” Hilliard said. “It’s always good when you can make your teammates look like that.”
That was his 10th home run of the season, a career-high in a season that has been full of highs and lows for Hilliard. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and Hilliard has made plenty of those this season.
“He’s got the raw ability, we all see that,” manager Bud Black said. “Now we just have to make more consistent contact, get the ball in play and let his strength help his game.”
Hilliard's slump at the beginning of the season has been well documented — he had a .108 batting average after the first month of the season, which got him sent back down to Triple-A. He continued to work on his mechanics, but he said then that it was mainly mental. He got the help he needed, and he was promoted back to the big leagues after the All-Star break in July.
Hilliard has worked through another round of adjustments over the past two weeks. He changed his stance, making it more open and lowering his hands — he typically had them higher on the bat, and that caused his swing to get too big. With his hands farther down, it’ll give him a quicker and more direct path to the ball.
“The hardest part in my opinion is convincing yourself to go out and do something different in a big league game that doesn't feel comfortable,” he said. “At the end of the day, you just have to trust your coaches and trust the people who know what they are talking about, and trust in yourself that you are going to be able to do it.”
He’s had to be careful not to put in too much extra work. He’s the type of player who will overswing and overwork in the cage. It’s all about trust again. He needs to limit his work, to make sure he still fresh for the game.
Hilliard hasn’t gotten as many major league at-bats this season as he would like — he’s at just over 160 heading into Saturday’s game, and his career number is still below 350. After the season, Hilliard is considering going to Mexico for the second half of the winter ball season.
In 2018, right before his breakout season, he played in the Arizona fall league. He felt prepared heading into spring training in 2019, and he was more consistent and more confident that season. He’s hoping to replicate that feeling heading into the 2022 season.
“This year has been extremely up and down. It’s been weird,” he said. “In years past, it feels like I need to teach myself how to hit again when I get there because I took so much time off. I think it’ll be good for me and beneficial. With repetitions, you only get better.”