Denorfia's success story a long time coming

Denorfia's success story a long time coming

Denorfia's success story a long time coming
PEORIA, Ariz. -- In many ways last season, Chris Denorfia was a success story within a success story, with his unlikely rise to prominence essentially matching the meteoric rise of the surprising San Diego Padres.

But before the outfielder completed his feel-good story -- you know, former prospect, injured, loses an entire season, drops off map -- he was playing sporadically for the Padres in July, a week before his 30th birthday, all while scuffling with his swing.

"I had been wondering why I would hit really hard-hit ground balls but I wouldn't get the trajectory I was looking for," Denorfia said.

It was about that time when Denorfia picked up on a conversation between teammates -- Adrian Gonzalez and Will Venable -- and overheard something that he felt might work for him.

Score one for eavesdropping.

"Something just kind of clicked," said Denorfia, who credits hitting coach Randy Ready for being instrumental in helping him.

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"I went and looked at some video and I decided that I was going to make some changes. It was weird, since it usually takes a couple of weeks for a change in mechanics to set in for me. But this time, it just all kind of clicked."

What Gonzalez imparted to Venable that day -- and what Denorfia essentially stole for his own -- was that he wasn't staying back enough, keeping his weight back, and that his first movement had been to drift forward.

"That's not the correct way to hit a baseball," he said.

Flaw corrected, Denorfia became a different hitter. He hit consecutive home runs against the Nationals on July 7-8. After the All-Star break, Denorfia drilled four home runs, also driving in eight runs, over a blissful six-game stretch.

"He had a great year and really got his career back on track," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He wasn't going to be denied. He was not going to be sent down.

"In the middle of the summer, he was responsible for a lot of our wins. Made some good plays with the glove, swung the bat great and ran the bases well."

The Padres, a team that struggled mightily to score runs but more than got by with its pitching and defense, suddenly found another bat to help Gonzalez with run production. Denorfia hit six home runs and hit .277 in July, followed by a .303 month in August.

"He's persevered. He's a survivor. And what I mean by that is he put in all this hard work and got another opportunity and took advantage of it," said Ready, who often jokes with Denorfia that his right-handed swing is "hitterish" and belongs on the media guide cover.

Denorfia, who is hitting .387 this spring and will again be the Padres' fourth outfielder, has certainly had a different career arc than most of his teammates. Not too many players find their groove at 30.

Denorfia was once a highly-regarded prospect with the Reds and appeared on the cusp of winning a job in their outfield in 2007 when he blew out his right elbow making a simple throw during Spring Training of that year.

He resurfaced again in 2008 and eventually found himself in the A's organization. A free agent after 2009, he signed a Minor League deal with the Padres before last season.

"After my surgery, I felt like I hadn't swung in 10 years. I had to rebuild my swing," he said. "I've been trying for four years to get back to where I was."

He found the swing last summer and, better still, found the right opportunity to show that he could still play.

"It was something ingrained in me growing up, the people I learned from, that no matter what happened, just keep working hard," Denorfia said. "It definitely took a lot longer to be sitting where I'm at today. It's just the way it went for me.

"It's something you're reminded of every day, it makes me appreciate it more and more ... kind of going through the trials and tribulations of a bumpy career. I kind of use that as fuel to get me through the day."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.