Q&A: Valaika, Vogt dish on Guardians’ offense

May 12th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CLEVELAND — The Guardians’ offense has been the talk of the 2024 season. When the rotation has faltered, the bats have stepped up. Now that the starters have gone deeper this weekend against the White Sox, the bats have started to go silent.

Let’s check in with Guardians hitting coach Chris Valaika and manager Stephen Vogt about their thoughts on the offense.

Why do you think José Ramírez hasn’t quite looked like himself just yet?

Valaika: [He’s] putting the pressure on himself that when those runs are out there, he wants to get them. He knows he can hit every pitch. So just getting him to funnel everything back into the zone, take his walks when the walks are there rather than trying to drive everybody in on his own when we got [Josh Naylor] and whomever coming up behind him.

What’s the approach with a young player like Kyle Manzardo who is just getting his first Major League at-bats under his belt?

Valaika: Let him get his feet wet, not trying to dump on him with scouting reports and all kinds of stuff that we have. Give him 20, 30 at-bats to just taste the big leagues a little bit. And then when we see things, when we need to make adjustments, other clubs don’t know him yet. Everybody’s got computers, but they’re going to go look up how to attack him, but it’s a different beast in the Minor Leagues than the big leagues. So before we jump to conclusions or try to intervene, let some of the dust settle and see what the game’s telling us at this point or at this level, and then we will go from there with him.

Does it seem like Will Brennan has started to settle in more at the plate?

Valaika: I think the biggest thing with Will, he is hitting the ball as hard as he’s ever hit the ball. So those things are going to turn. And rather than trying to chase a result, chase a hit, [he will] continue to hit the ball hard and they’re going to fall — and we’ve seen that. I think the biggest impact on Will has been Josh and them hitting together. Josh kind of putting his arm around him, kind of weathering some of this storm with him and seeing him come out the other side right now.

What have you seen with Bo Naylor to start the year?

Valaika: We’ve seen Bo for the last three years and he’s been kind of a historic slow starter. I’m not worried about him. I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse is worried about him, and seeing him over the last couple of days with consistent at-bats, he’s really starting to settle in. … So I think just time and getting him comfortable and just letting him settle in with those consistent at-bats is going to be the biggest thing with Bo.

What was Steven Kwan doing before he got hurt to have the success he had?

Valaika: He’s holding much better angles and we talked about hitting mechanics, we’re seeing him being more productive in the air. He’s impacting the ball harder. Those things are all starting to translate into a more productive at-bat. The way he controls the zone, he’s taken his walks.

How can hitters be coached to relax in big situations?

Vogt: To me, it’s the mindset of you’re not trying to hit a double, you’re not trying to hit a home run, you’re trying to make that guy [on] third base touch home plate. However that looks, whatever you need to do.

It comes with experience. It comes with how you’re feeling at the plate. It’s all dependent on where you are personally in that moment. We’re young, a lot of these guys want to get the big hit for their teammates. It’s not a selfish ambition, it’s, “I want to come through for the boys.” What happens then is you start to get a little bigger, you start to do too much. But realizing that all the pressure is on the pitcher at that moment. He’s the one that’s got the bases loaded, he doesn’t want to get those runs cashed in. You’ve just got to touch the ball. These guys are throwing 97, 98 — just touch it. His power will take care of it for you.