Relaxed Hundley off to positive spring start

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Given his play this spring, you'd think Nick Hundley underwent some drastic offseason changes to fix the offensive part of his game that let him down in a big way last season.

Turns out, he's been working on one thing and one thing only:

"I'm trying to be loose," Hundley said. "I'm trying to be relaxed; that's really all I've been working on."

It has certainly worked so far, as Hundley notched 11 hits in 23 at-bats before Monday. What's more important is that he's driving the ball, slugging .783 and with an OPS of 1.283.

That's quite the quick turnaround from last season's anemic numbers. After signing a $9 million contract extension last January, Hundley struggled to a .157 batting average and just a .245 slugging percentage in 58 games before he was sent to Triple-A Tucson. To tack on, he injured his knee in mid-April -- a major hindrance all year -- and his season ended early with surgery on it in August.

"He was pressing too hard, wanting to live up to his contract a little bit and wanting to prove that he was the guy," manager Bud Black said. "Then he started going the other way, the knee situation happened, he kept playing through it. He started trying harder, and the harder he tried the worse it got."

As a result of those struggles, Hundley has made adjustments to his stance in an effort to keep his swing loose. His hands are lower, and his path to the ball is more direct. In short, there are not as many moving parts.

But what may be even more important than the mechanics is the mental adjustment he has made.

"The only day that matters is right now, and the only pitch that matters is right now," Hundley said. "I've wasted way too much of my life looking ahead. That's something I've made the adjustment on, and I'll need to continue that."

With Yasmani Grandal suspended for the first 50 games of the season, Hundley figures to get the opportunity to prove himself yet again. He has certainly done so this spring, and Black likes what he has seen.

"It's a combination of the physical -- his stance and his swing have been changed a little bit -- and the mental side, being more composed," Black said. "He's got a calmer sense in the batter's box than ever before.

"Now, he's just got to take that into a regular-season game. It's easy to do in a Spring Training game, as opposed to maybe Opening Day in New York."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.