There's no dread for 'Big Red' in '07
After a drastic slump cost him a place in the majors, Shelton didn't mope -- he got to work.
EAST LANSING -- Everyone seemed trim and energized Wednesday as the Tigers' publicity caravan rolled into Breslin Center at Michigan State.
Manager Jim Leyland looked younger. Justin Verlander's eyes sparkled as he stood before TV cameras and tape recorders. Craig Monroe was relaxed and smiling -- testimony, perhaps, to his new contract. Placido Polanco might have shed a few pounds.
Also on Detroit's you-look-great roster was Chris Shelton, the red-haired slugger who's looking forward to a fresh start.
"It's 2007," said Shelton, 26, permitting a change in years to suggest there could be a deeper change for the first baseman.
He -- and his employers -- would love to think this season will be a stable one for a right-handed hitter who looked last spring as if he were about to become baseball's next star.
He hit seven home runs in the first 10 games. From April 2-9, he batted .583 with five homers and nine RBIs. He had the most extra-base hits (19) and total bases (72) by a Tiger in April since 1960.
He looked as if he were headed to the All-Star Game, to say nothing of being on target for batting or home-run titles. Nothing seemed out of reach for a supposed natural who looked as if he would be the breakthrough player ESPN's Peter Gammons, among others, projected him to be.
What no one anticipated was the roof caving in. It happened quickly, as a mid-May cool-down turned into a June cold snap that by July had Shelton in Toledo.
He returned in September to play 13 games but batted .211 with nine strikeouts in 19 at-bats. He was off the postseason roster.
"The best way to put it is inconsistency," Shelton said Wednesday. "It was something out of the ordinary for me."
He went home to suburban Salt Lake City in the offseason and got busy reestablishing mechanics and thought processes. A man who by midseason could not trust his swing pared away the confusion under the tutelage of two of his former hitting coaches from the University of Utah and Salt Lake City Community College (Bill Kinneberg and D.G. Nelson).
"What I focused on this winter was getting consistency back into my swing," said Shelton, whom the Tigers appeared to have stolen from Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft in December 2003.
"The biggest problem last year was that I got away from my game plan. My particular game plan consists of hitting the ball up the middle. I tried to pull too many balls. I got myself out. I tried to do too much. If a pitch is on the outside part of the plate, I've always tried to take it to right field. Last year, I started trying to pull too many of those pitches."
Shelton will be working with a new Tigers hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon, who takes over for retired Don Slaught.
Even from his old perch in the bullpen, where he coached last year, McClendon could pick up on Shelton's confusion.
"A lot of young players get caught up doing things they're not capable of doing," said McClendon, an ex-Pirates manager. "The No. 1 thing at spring training is to not have him forcing things."
McClendon agrees Shelton became too pull-conscious, although both men say that wasn't the only problem. Shelton's swing got longer as he became more power-conscious. He lost his stroke, rhythm and knack for pitch selection.
Shelton was swinging at pitches he had avoided earlier in the year. He was taking pitches that, in April, he had crushed.
It was a sure sign that a good hitter had become lost. But Shelton and McClendon insist a good hitter's abilities can smooth out as quickly as they become entangled.
"It was just that -- a bump in the road," Shelton said.
"Those things can be adjusted," McClendon said. "And, hopefully, we'll get them adjusted."
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