L.J. Mazzilli sees a lot of his father in Ducks manager Wally Backman. He hears a lot of him too.
“Wally reminds me of my dad a lot. They say the same things all the time,” Mazzilli said. “Coincidentally, they don’t even know they’re saying it at the same time.”
These are some of the advantages of playing for one of your dad’s closest friends, as Backman is to L.J.’s father, former Met and Yankee Lee Mazzilli.
The synergy between the two elder figures — both former Mets trying to guide the next generation — showed itself during a recent slump for the younger Mazzilli.
“Maybe it was a month ago and I was struggling, and my dad called me and said, ‘Hey, go ask Wally [to] leave [you] in the two-hole for a week. Say let me see what I can do. If I’m not doing it, you can take me out,’ ” Mazzilli said.
“So I came in and I was hitting second in the lineup. I walked into Wally’s office and I said, ‘Hey, I wanted to say something.’ He cut me off and said, ‘I’m going to put you in the two-hole a little bit, get you some fastballs, and let’s see what you can do.’ It was exactly what my dad had told me 30 minutes ago.”
Mazzilli’s first half mirrored his team’s.
In May, a month in which the Ducks stumbled to a 10-16 record, Mazzilli had a .182/.273/.234 slash line, one home run and eight RBIs in 22 games (77 at-bats).
“His approach was off,” Backman said of Mazzilli’s first-half struggles. “He was late, trying to hit too many balls to rightfield.”
In June, the Ducks went 18-9 and Mazzilli started to rebound a bit with a .268/.409/.352 slash line, one home run and five RBIs in 20 games (71 at-bats). He had three consecutive multi-hit games in mid-July, perhaps showing signs of the player that Backman knows is still out there.
“I think we’re going to see the old L.J. that we had in the past,” Backman said. “I expect him to be a bat in our lineup that’s powerful again.”
Mazzilli feels it, too.
“When you get off to a slow start, sometimes you can fall into the trap of trying to get out of the hole that you feel like you’re in instead of taking it at-bat-by-at-bat, game-by-game and just trying to plug away over time,” Mazzilli said.
“You always kind of want a big hit to make up for how you’re doing so far. I’m trying to get back to the basics, just try to hit the ball as hard as possible every time I’m up there, with a good pitch.”
Mazzilli consulted Backman and outfielder/hitting coach Lew Ford when trying to recapture his stroke.
“[They were] trying to get me to get back to getting that bat speed back, swinging less with the body and trying to be too perfect,” Mazzilli said.
Mazzilli has become one of the staples of the franchise. He played in more than 100 games in both 2019 and 2021, putting together slash lines of .294/.351/.435 in 2019 and .303/.381/.440 in 2021. He’ll be 32 on Sept. 6 and still believes he has a lot to offer despite not being in a major-league system since 2018.
“You always get to a point in your career where you start evaluating where you’re at, what you want to do going forward, and the time that you think your body can keep going,” he said. “I haven’t dove into those thoughts quite yet. But, I know where I’m at, and I know that I can still play at the highest level.”