Jason Columbus won’t reveal the most recent changes he and Alex Bregman have made to the LSU slugger’s swing.
After all, the enemy might be reading.
“It’s a chess match,” said Columbus, Bregman’s hitting instructor in New Mexico since his teenage years. “Him and I are trying to play against the other guys.”
Bregman’s 2014 season has turned into one, big game.
The game inside the games is Bregman vs. the pitcher — a chess-match like affair that’s had swinging lead changes over the course of the past 10 weeks.
LSU’s star shortstop led the game early: He batted .419 through the first month.
Pitchers took the lead by midseason: He was, at one point, 4-for-41.
The latest swing is Bregman’s climb out of the skid: He’s had six multiple-hit games in the past nine.
“Feels like a chess match,” Bregman said. “At the beginning of the year, I was killing them. They made their little move. Now it’s my time to counter. I’ve started doing that.”
The chess match continues this weekend in College Station, Texas, on national television.
LSU (34-11-1, 12-8-1 Southeastern Conference) and Texas A&M (28-18, 10-11) meet in a three-game series starting Friday. Games Saturday and Sunday are set for ESPN2 and ESPNU, respectively.
The mysterious adjustments made by Bregman — with help from Columbus and LSU hitting coach Javi Sanchez — are behind his recent success in the game inside the games.
Even with his surgning last two weeks, the 2014 Bregman trails the 2013 version by leaps and bounds.
The numbers don’t lie. This time last season, he was batting .395. He’s at .285 now. His 29 RBIs are 14 fewer than he had through 46 starts a year ago, and he has 27 fewer hits.
What’s behind the low digits?
Opposing pitchers are playing the game — throwing him few hittable pitches.
They all have scouting reports on this hotshot shortstop from LSU who hit .369 last season as a freshman.
Bregman sees very few fastballs — and those he does see are off the plate.
His options are mostly sliders, curveballs and changeups.
“They’re not going to let him beat them,” Columbus said in an interview this week.
A frustrated Bregman was chasing garbage pitches, leading to groundouts, flyouts and strikeouts — anything but consistent hits.
Something had to change. Bregman had to start playing the game.
He turned to an old friend.
Columbus, a hitting instructor at the Albuquerque Baseball Academy, has been working with Bregman since he was 15. He coached him in summer ball.
The two talk every day, and Columbus doesn’t miss a game. He records them with DVR or watches them online.
Around the time of the Ole Miss series, they began playing the game, making adjustments based on opposing pitchers.
“We sat and looked how people were pitching him. I told him, ‘This is a chess match,’” Columbus said. “They’ve got a way that they feel they can get you out. It took us a while to figure it out.”
It’s a never-ending battle, though.
“We’ve got something right now going, and they’re going to adjust,” he said. “He’s going to have to adjust too. He’s going to have to play this chess match and try to stay ahead of that scouting report.”
What are these adjustments?
While Columbus shied away from revealing them, Bregman at least suggested one of the key changes: He moved up in the batter’s box.
He placed his hands in a more consistent and different location, too, said Sanchez.
Those were the physical changes. The mental ones were just as important.
The big one: Lay off the garbage, Alex.
Bregman has walked 22 times, just three more than last season at this time.
“He’s got to take more walks,” Columbus said. “I went back and counted this season. He should have 25 more walks — just at-bats where he’s trying to do too much, chasing a pitcher or whatever. It’s a growing process.”
Columbus said Bregman had the “right mentality” through his mid-season skid — one that included a 0-for-17 stretch.
“He had so much pressure on himself,” he said. “Everybody was asking what was wrong. I could tell it affected him but he kept telling me, ‘I’m going to come out of this. It can’t stay this way forever.’”
At least through the last two weeks, he’s beginning to remind Columbus of the 2013 Alex Bregman.
He’s playing the game now, that chess match.
“It’s all part of the game,” Bregman said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.”