In baseball, the word “rhythm” is used often.
Being in rhythm is good. It’s why batters occasionally call timeout at the plate when a pitcher is working fast and mowing down the lineup — they want to disrupt his rhythm. Hitters on hot streaks? They tend to credit their rhythm, too. Everything seems to be on beat.
But for Aaron Hicks, almost the entire 2016 season — his first with the Yankees — has been out of rhythm.
The Yankees acquired Hicks from the Twins for catcher John Ryan Murphy in the offseason, slotting him as a fourth outfielder to spell 39-year-old Carlos Beltran in rightfield most frequently but also as a backup to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.
That meant Hicks would not play every day. And without the opportunity to play every day, he struggled to find a rhythm at the plate.
After Hicks got one hit in his first three at-bats, his average hit its nadir of .050 on April 20 and has not been higher than .221, a mark last reached on June 18. His season slash line sits at .205/.263/.327.
“I just had trouble finding a rhythm,” Hicks said.
But with the trade of Beltran paving the way for regular playing time, Hicks is in the midst of a hot streak lasting more than 10 games for the second time this season (he hit .306 from May 5-20).
Since Aug. 2, Hicks has started each of the Yankees’ 13 games (he has started 72 of their 118 games all year). His 13 hits in 43 at-bats translates to a .302 average, and he has hit three home runs to double his season total.
“Now that I’m getting more at-bats,” he said, “I’m able to make faster adjustments within my at-bats and do what I want to do within my at-bats.”
Before he went 1-for-4 in Monday night’s 1-0 win over Toronto, Hicks’ line-drive percentage was 18.8 (up from 15.5) and his hard-hit percentage was 37.5 (up from 25.9) since Aug. 2, according to FanGraphs.com.
“I think he’s swung the bat much, much better, and even on days that he doesn’t get hits, he seems to line out a couple times,” Joe Girardi said. “His at-bats have been getting better.”
Hicks has positively impacted the Yankees defensively all season — his six defensive runs saved in only 660 2⁄3 innings before Monday night’s game ranked 17th among outfielders, according to FanGraphs.com — but his manager noticed him struggling against the public perception that he was hurting the team.
“It couldn’t have been easy to be him in a sense,” Girardi said, “because every time he didn’t get a hit, it was probably over-evaluated why he was playing and some other people weren’t playing. That had to be having to play with some pressure over your shoulders on a daily basis because he heard the questions.”
With Gardner set to return from an ankle injury as soon as Tuesday night and general manager Brian Cashman saying Aaron Judge will be the primary rightfielder, Hicks likely will fall back into the fourth outfielder role.
“When I get opportunities,” he said, “I’m just going to go out there and play.”
And try to stay in rhythm.