As the season nears the midpoint, Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo has seen his power numbers dip significantly from last year, when he led the majors with a career-high 47 homers. But as Trumbo assessed his first half of the season, he's confident he has done all the things necessary to ensure his power stroke will eventually come.
Trumbo hit his 11th homer of the season in Friday's series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, a far cry from last year's pace when had already hit 23 homers through 79 games. And Trumbo has been maneuvering through a season in which he has seen fewer pitches to hit.
"Sometimes it's a little give and take," Trumbo said before Thursday's series finale in Toronto. "There's nothing calculated. In a perfect world, I'd love to repeat the season I had last year, but the human element comes in and this year's, it's just been a little bit different. … I've had kind of a dilemma all year. The power swing hasn't been as available as maybe it's been in the past, but one thing I kind of refuse to do is go up there and just flail at the ball in an attempt to drive it.
"I'd rather be productive in some way rather than take a flier on trying to do too much. When I feel like I'm in a groove and I'm in an area where I can drive, that's when I'll try to take advantage … whereas last year, it was available most all of the season. I haven't quite felt that yet, but in the same regard, there's other areas where I've contributed to."
While his power numbers are down, Trumbo's walk rate is up to 8.0 percent — his best since 2013 — and that has led to deeper, competitive at-bats that he's proud of. While his home run numbers were accompanied by 170 strikeouts in 2016, Trumbo's strikeout rate (21.1 percent entering Friday) is his lowest since his first full big league season in 2011.
Since struggling through the first month of the season, Trumbo — who returned to the Orioles in January on a three-year, $37.5 million deal — has quietly been one of the Orioles' top offensive contributors in terms of getting on base. Since May 4, when he owned a .250 on-base percentage, Trumbo's .342 on-base mark is the second highest on the team behind second baseman Jonathan Schoop's .362.
Moving forward, that's what an Orioles team needs, as it hits well with runners in scoring position but has created far too few run-scoring opportunities in the first half of the season. Still, Trumbo said it has been a challenge holding back.
"It's really tough," Trumbo said. "Finding a good pitch to hit can take a while to materialize in at-bats. … It doesn't matter what the score is; if you're watching, you'll see pitchers pitching you just as tough in a blowout as they will in a tight game. If you're a middle-of-the-order hitter, sometimes you're really going to have to work for it and wait for the seventh or eighth pitch of the at-bat, and I think that's what I'm kind of getting at. You want to be a tough out and you kind of want to prolong some of those at-bats and because of that, some of the walks are probably up, too."
That approach gives the 31-year-old Trumbo confidence that he will have the opportunity to hit for more power in the second half of the season. And there are signs of that. He's finding the gaps more often — he had three doubles in his five games heading into Friday — and even though he entered the series with just two homers in 26 games, Trumbo just missed twice this week in Toronto.
Trumbo missed his 11th homer of the season by a few feet in the Orioles' 3-1 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday, hitting a ball that hit off the top of the center-field fence at Rogers Centre at a 111-mph velocity. Trumbo had to settle for a 419-foot two-run double.
In Thursday's win, he took Jose Bautista to the right-field warning track with a towering but harmless flyout, just missing a home run by a few feet in his third at-bat of the night.
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Overall, Trumbo is still hitting the ball hard, among the game's top 25 with a 90.7 mph average exit velocity. Last season, he ranked eighth with a 92.7 average.
"Mark is just a productive hitter," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's always there. Something might not work out one game, but you know that someone's going to pay down the line. He's one of those guys who you trust with a contract, just with things in general. … He's got a lot of self pride, he's a good teammate and he wants to win every night. If he goes 0-for-4 and we win, he's sincerely happy but he's going to be driving all the time to bring what he's supposed to bring."
While Trumbo said he has always been used to seeing a steady diet of breaking balls, he said a key to last year's success was his ability to turn on pitches on the inner half of the plate better than any other season in his career. This season, he's not getting crowded nearly as much, and opposing pitchers have more frequently tempted him by focusing on the outer half of the plate.
"I think I'm handling [the inside pitch] this year, but I'm not getting quite as many of them, so I'm working on taking that pitch away is something I'm working on getting a little bit better on," Trumbo said. "If it's located, it's always been a tough pitch to handle anyway, but I think if I can improve in any area it would be that one.
"But in the second half, I'd like to — if the swing feels like it's in order — maybe to take a few more chances and go for it a little bit more. But it's really felt to this point that the best version of me is gap-to-gap line drive and you know, we've faced a lot of quality pitching as well. There aren't a lot of pitches down the middle for you to hit. I think as you go year by year throughout your career, there's more of a scouting report and it's up to you as a hitter to do what you can to combat that as much as you can."