By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
VIERA, Fla., March 13 -- Nook Logan can look in the mirror and wish the reflection he saw was the way his life actually is. He yearns to live in Bizarro World, where there is an exact opposite of everything he knows, where left would be right and right would be left and he would walk to the plate with more confidence than doubt.
"I was out there thinking the other day, 'Why can't my left side be my right side?' " the Washington Nationals center fielder said. "I could make so much more of an impact if I were the other way around, if it was all reversed."
Logan, 27, is a switch hitter. Or, perhaps more accurately, he is trying to be a switch hitter. He grew up in Natchez, Miss., hitting right-handed. When he first was drafted out of junior college by Detroit in 2000, the Tigers knew they had a speedy player on their hands, and what better way to use the speed than to get him to hit from the left side as well. Thus began a struggle that is entering its eighth season. One scout familiar with Logan said recently, "It's never going to work."
But that doesn't mean that, for now, the Nationals won't keep trying. And they will do so by breaking Logan down and building him back up.
"People make a lot of mistakes with young hitters when they try to switch hit," hitting coach Mitchell Page said. "They try to force them to do things. My goal right now over the next two weeks, I just want him to put the ball in play. Ultimately, you want him to hit the top half of the ball so he can drive it. But he has to feel comfortable that he can hit any pitch before we get to that point."
Right now, Logan isn't at that point. Saturday, he came up in the 10th inning of a game against the New York Mets, and left-hander Eddie Camacho was on the mound. In the dugout, Manager Manny Acta said he liked the matchup for Logan, who singled in the winning run.
"It was the perfect situation for Nook," Acta said, "because we all know he is a little bit more advanced from the right side."
Numbers show he's much more advanced. Last season, after coming over in a trade from the Tigers -- who had essentially given up on him -- Logan hit .350 batting right-handed, .286 left-handed. But in reality, the disparity was even greater. Eight of Logan's 20 hits batting left-handed were bunts, his best weapon from that side because he can drag the ball and use his greatest gift -- speed.
Logan's career numbers are starkly different as well. In 152 right-handed at-bats, he has a .322 average, a .356 on-base percentage and a .461 slugging percentage. In 393 left-handed at-bats, those numbers fall to .249, .305 and an anemic .303, respectively.
Logan, though, doesn't want to abandon this way of life just yet.
"Believe it or not, sometimes I go up there and I feel better left-handed," Logan said. "I just don't get the same results. Right now, I'm looking for that comfort zone. I'm trying to slow the game down so that I'm more comfortable rather than trying to catch up to the speed of the game."
Page is trying to help him with that process. The hitting coach would like to see Logan have a more solid base from the left side, allowing the ball to travel to him rather than lunging at it, as he does so often. It is a process that, in an ideal world, would have happened in the minors and not the majors. But Acta has named Logan the starting center fielder because of his extraordinary defensive abilities, and the learning will continue under the spotlight of the big leagues.
"He's got to be able to put the ball in play before he tells me what he has to do with the first pitch, what he has to do with the second and all that," Page said. "No. Just hit the ball hard someplace, and then we'll get to everything else. He's got to be a guy who can put the ball in play and take his walks, and if there are too many lazy fly balls, then we'll deal with that.
"I want him to have the same amount of confidence left-handed as right-handed. But left-handed, he has no feel. He's still learning."
On Monday afternoon, Logan came to the plate against Mets right-hander Chan Ho Park. Hitting left-handed, he drove a ball to right field that sneaked into the corner, and Logan flew around the bases for a triple. In an intrasquad game late last month, he actually hit a home run from the left side, something he has never done in a major league game.
"I got to get comfortable, and I think I will," Logan said.
General Manager Jim Bowden said earlier this spring that the club would not ask Logan to give up switch hitting, at least in part because the drag bunt is such a weapon. Page, too, pledged to stay on his pupil. By the all-star break, he said, everyone will have a better idea of whether this experiment will work.
"I think he's got enough tools to be a switch hitter," Page said. "I just think he's going to have an explosive second half compared to the first half because of the way we're going to go about it. I think he's capable of doing the job."