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July 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

After slow start, Cecchini heating up at the plate, settling into left field

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Coming into the 2015 season, Garin Cecchini had a career .298 batting average in the minors, and had played 431 of his 457 games at third base. On July 2, he was batting .188 for the season and had played twice as many games in left field and nearly as many games at first base as he had at third.

However, over his last 17 games, Cecchini has begun to right the ship and show off the hit tool that was supposed to carry him to the big leagues, batting .344/.406/.426 with six walks.

Cecchini has always had an advanced approach since signing with the Red Sox out of high school in 2010. Despite a lack of other standout tools, scouts believed his hit tool and approach were strong enough to make him a potential major league starter on his way up through the system. It is that approach that been a big part of the mid-season turnaround for him.

“We’re seeing some more impact to his pull side, and he’s taking his hits to left. But he’s working counts,” Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles said. “We’re starting to see him not trying to do too much with the first pitch of his at-bats. I think that’s when he’s right, when he’s seeing more pitches. He’s been doing that recently, he’s been working some counts.”

Cecchini simply credited better luck for the turnaround with more balls falling in for him.

“I just have to keep simplifying [my approach] and hope they fall,” he said. “Just gotta keep having good at-bats, that’s it really.”

It’s clear more than just balls falling in, he has been going deeper into counts and working pitchers harder. In Saturday night’s game at McCoy Stadium, he walked in his first plate appearance on five pitches, and took the first pitch every time he went up there.

“It’s trust that you can get behind in the count and still have a productive at-bat,” Boles said. “There’s not as much, I wouldn’t say panic, but there’s not as much urgency as far as early on in the count. And getting pitches that you can drive also, I think that’s also key. I think he was chasing pitchers’ pitches at times and putting a little pressure on himself. So I think we’re starting to see him settle in a little better.”

Cecchini has always been a patient hitter, to the point where some evaluators thought he was overly passive and needed to be more aggressive. During his struggles this season, it seemed at times like he was trying to counter this notion by being more aggressive early in counts. That's not the style of hitting that made him a .300 hitter coming up through the minors though, and he's looking to find a balance between those two approaches.

“I never go up there looking for a walk, it just happens when they throw balls. I’m looking to hit strikes and be aggressive,” Cecchini said “When they don’t throw a strike, I don’t want to swing at balls, so it just happens like that.”

Last year, Cecchini had a similar start to his first season at the Triple-A level. He was batting .237 at Pawtucket on August 7, but in his final 21 games at the level, he batted .382/.460/.592, resulting in a September call-up, during which he hit .241/.353/.414 in 10 games.

Cecchini does not see a correlation there, nor does he feel compelled to look for similarities. At this point, he is not looking back for answers, but rather trying to keep a level head and stick to what he knows in the face of adversity.

“Each season is different. I feel good at the plate, I felt good at the plate when I was so-called struggling in the box score,” the 24-year-old said. “It is what it is, everyone goes through it so I can’t complain.”

As for moving around the diamond this season, it would be easy for the affable Cecchini to use that as an excuse for his hitting slump, but he refused to do so. This season, he has played 42 games in left field, 19 at third base, 14 at first, and eight as the designated hitter. Outside of 26 games in left last season, he had played every inning of his professional career at third before 2015.

“At the end of the day, it’s the same game, just on the opposite side of the game at first base or left field or third base,” he said. “I like it, just takes my mind off of things, go out there and catch the ball and then try to put the fat part of the bat on the ball.”

Though he does not want to make excuses, it is natural to wonder if learning the various positions has been part of the problem offensively. More and more, he has become the team’s primary left fielder with others on the team needing reps at third and first, while his defense at the hot corner was never regarded as stellar. He has been viewing the position switch with a positive attitude.

“I feel great in left. I love left, I enjoy it out there,” he said. “I think it’s just natural. I try not to overthink things. They told me [when I first started], ‘Hey listen, you’re going to make mistakes, just learn from them.’ I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve learned from them, and move on. I can’t dwell on them and let it affect the rest of my game.”

In Saturday’s game, he showed improving instincts and range in the field, reacting quickly to come directly in and catch a liner in the sixth as well as ranging into left-center to catch a ball that could have fallen in the gap.

“We’re starting to see some better range out there,” Boles said. “The initial jumps and breaks are improving. You could see it on a ball he came in on tonight and also a ball in left-center. We’ve seen some range to left-center recently in the last few days, so he has done that. But it’s a process, he’s going to have to continue to get better.”

As far as his early-season struggles, Cecchini is doing what he can to use them to become a better player.

“You learn that they will fall, don’t panic,” he said. “It’s not a sprint. That’s what you learn because a lot of people want to be negative. But I just try to focus on the positive in saying, ‘Hey, I’m having good at-bats. I hit two hard, then struck out twice. I could have been 2 for 4 with two strikeouts.’ I would sleep perfectly like that. It’s just a matter of staying with what you’re doing and staying the course, and it will be fine the rest of my career.”

Photo credit: Garin Cecchini by Kelly O'Connor

Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegel.