Ruben Tejada excels with two strikes because of study, approach
ATLANTA -- The 96-mph fastball reached the plate so quickly that Ruben Tejada didn't have a chance to swing the bat. The second one arrived just as fast and in the same spot. This time he offered at it, though he managed only a late swing and a harmless foul to the screen.
The scoreboard clicked: two strikes.
For most hitters, the batter's box is a harsh, unrewarding place once the pitcher reaches that critical juncture in an at-bat. But the Mets shortstop has shown the uncanny ability to flourish even when he finds his back against the wall.
"You always have three chances," said Tejada, who lined a single on an 0-and-2 slider from Jordan Walden to knock in the go-ahead run in the Mets' 7-5 victory over the Braves in the 10th inning on Friday.
Few in baseball have fared better than Tejada when forced to battle in a two-strike count.
Since 2010, when Tejada made his debut, major-league hitters have reached base at roughly a .250 clip once they land in any two-strike count.
But Tejada has consistently outperformed the league average. His .319 on-base percentage on two-strike counts is the eighth highest among all hitters with at least 300 plate appearances.
Tejada leads the 2013 Mets with a .362 on-base percentage when he reaches two strikes, ahead of noted two-strike battler David Wright (.355).
"Ruben's really good," Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens said. "He fouls off a lot of pitches with two strikes. He lets the ball get deep . Yeah, he does a good job with that."
Perhaps the Mets could use more hitters who are comfortable hitting with two strikes.
A list of teams that battle best reads like a baseball honor roll. Since 2010, the Yankees (.274) have posted the highest on-base percentage with two strikes, followed by the Rangers (.264), Red Sox (.263), Tigers (.262) and Cardinals (.261).
For Tejada, battling with two strikes is less about shortening his swing and more about getting into the proper mind-set.
First, he looks at scouting reports and watches video in hope of picking up on pitchers most likely to throw breaking balls on two-strike counts and those who prefer to attack with inside fastballs. The Mets have access to data that reveals certain tendencies for opposing pitchers.
Second, Tejada focuses on allowing the ball to get deeper into the strike zone before committing to a swing. That way he can guard against getting fooled by breaking pitches.
Even just standing in the batter's box, Tejada said he often reminds himself that at-bats are far from over when he has two strikes on him.
"You have another chance," Tejada said. "You have another pitch."
Tejada demonstrated his approach Friday night when the Mets needed him to extend a rally that eventually won them the game.
In the 10th inning, with Jordany Valdespin standing on second base as the go-ahead run, Braves reliever Walden pumped a pair of fastballs past Tejada, who looked overmatched.
Tejada didn't panic -- perhaps the most important part of his approach. Which is why he was ready when Walden left a slider hanging over the inner half of the plate. Tejada lined the pitch into centerfield.
"I don't have a problem with that," Tejada said about hitting with two strikes. "I feel good. I've worked a lot on my two-strike approach. That's why I think I like it. I'm not afraid to strike out."