CLEVELAND -- Todd Frazier feels as good at the plate as he has all season and is taking extra steps to maintain that state.
The White Sox third baseman has spent the better part of the team’s current road trip tracking his teammates’ pitches in pregame bullpen sessions instead of taking extra batting practice.
Given how slowly he started the season, Frazier wanted to ensure he’s doing everything he can to get back on track. And while setting foot in the bullpen means he hears extra smack talk from teammates and argues balls and strikes with Don Cooper, Frazier thinks the practice -- one he’s done before seven straight games -- has helped considerably. His numbers indicate how feels as Frazier is hitting .348/.400/.826 in his last 25 plate appearances. A three-hit game on Thursday night pushed Frazier’s average to a season-high .206.
“The main part of it is you feel your front foot getting down and seeing where you are on a fastball, seeing where you are on a slider,” Frazier said. “I’ve been in great positions and it’s a challenge for me and for them too. I think it can only help. It’s something I used to do a lot but kind of got away from it -- the days are longer and you’re playing a lot more games. But kind of got in a little groove with doing that and then getting ready.”
The groove is overdue for a player who in his career has considerably better numbers in the first half of the season versus the second. Frazier experienced myriad health issues early in the season that seemed to continually prevent him from building momentum. But even after he got healthier, the free agent to be couldn’t get back on track.
Frazier has seen the ball pretty well as evidenced by his team-high 27 walks. Still, he wasn’t hitting his pitches when they came.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Frazier said. “At the end of the day not only in baseball, but in life in general, to go through these kinds of things, which I’ve done a couple times -- not everybody is Mike Trout -- it’s a learning experience.”
It’s an experience that had Frazier return to an old tried-and-true method he hadn’t used in season since the 2015 season in Cincinnati. Hitters normally spend the first few days each spring tracking pitches in live batting practice. But to see a hitter stand in the bullpen to track pitches in season for more than a day is a rare occurrence.
Pitcher Derek Holland faced Frazier earlier in the week. Holland said the level of trash talk between Frazier and whatever starting pitcher he faces is at an absurd level. But Holland thinks everyone benefits from the intensity of the game-like practice sessions.
“It’s definitely at an all-time high right now,” Holland said. “What makes it even better is when you’re going through tough times. The last two starts haven’t exactly been what I wanted.
With this, having (Frazier) stand in there, one we’re talking crap to each other and two we’re feeding off each other. It’s helping me visual better when I’m facing a right-handed hitter. It’s helping him see the ball.
“It definitely gets intense.”
The impact seemingly has been instant for Frazier, whose June OPS (yes, it’s a small sample) is 475 points higher than his season OPS (.741). Both Frazier and manager Rick Renteria like how the veteran looks at the plate and expect the run to continue. It was at its peak on Thursday when Frazier started a potential rally with a leadoff single in the fifth inning. Three innings later, Frazier smacked a two-run homer -- his 10th -- off the left-field foul pole to get the White Sox within a run.
“Todd is starting to feel it a little bit,” Renteria said. “It’s been coming along over the last week or so. He’s been working very hard, his routines. He’s been doing a few things to get him to feel more and more comfortable at the plate, and we’re happy to see it’s starting to pay some dividends.”
Frazier hopes that his teammates’ trash talk will be quieted down with each good performance. He doesn’t, however, expect he’s going to get any fairer of a shake from Cooper calling balls and strikes in the bullpen sessions.
“When I’m right it’s going to be for a while,” Frazier said. “I’ve been working on a lot of things and I feel really good at the plate.
“The pitchers were talking a little smack so I said ‘All right, I’ll come in there and track and call strikes, too.’ At the end of the day these pitchers think everything is a strike and Don Cooper is the same way, so me and him aren’t talking. You know, we’re not going to be talking for a while.”