Two-strike breaking balls have long given Mobile center fielder Keon Broxton fits, so it was with pleasure the 23-year-old exacted some revenge Monday.
The 2009 third-round D-backs Draft pick busted out of a slump with a pair of home runs and four RBIs in a 4-2 win over Pensacola. Both home runs came off two-strike sliders hung by Blue Wahoos' starter Josh Smith.
"The pitcher threw a couple good sliders early in the count, and I swung over top of them," Broxton said. "Then he hung a couple, and I was able to keep my hands back and square them up."
Broxton trailed the count 1-2 when he yanked his first homer out to left field in the second inning. He whiffed on two sliders in the at-bat, but when Smith left a third breaker over the plate, he sat back and knocked it out for a two-run homer.
His second homer -- a two-run shot in the fourth -- came in similar fashion as he poked a 1-2 slider out on a line drive to left field.
"If I swing over a slider, I try to forget about it as quickly as possible," Broxton said. "I can't let that carry over to the next pitch. If I do that, whatever I'm doing is never going to be good."
The outburst snapped Broxton out of a 7-for-47 slump to begin his season after having surgery for a broken right hand in the offseason. Broxton had pins placed in his hand and was forced to sit out all of Spring Training.
Upon his return, he struggled to recapture the strides he'd made in his approach the year before.
Broxton is an exceptional athlete who had a football commitment to Florida Atlantic before deciding to focus solely on baseball. When he was drafted, though, he was incredibly raw and has faced a relatively steep learning curve for an early-round pick.
He's developed an outstanding reputation as a defensive center fielder, but questions remain about his hitting. In 2012, he repeated the California League and made noticeable strides in his approach. In 2011, he struck out 172 times in 130 games across the Midwest and California leagues. In 2012, he cut that number to 136 in 130 games, belting 19 homers with 21 steals and a .763 OPS.
One of his biggest adjustments was mechanical. Broxton was plagued by a lengthy swing in 2011, and spent much of 2012 trying to shorten his path to the ball. He had one drill in particular that helped him make strides in that regard.
"I'll put a tee right in front of the plate and focus on hitting the ball up the middle," Broxton said. "Then I'll put a higher tee right behind my hands. It puts me in a good hitting position to swing down through the ball.
"When I try to do too much, I use a lot of my body with my swing and I fly open with my shoulders and drop my back shoulder. So keeping that back tee high by my hands, it makes me go down toward the ball. If I try to get big and use my body, I'll hit it with the bat. … I've made tremendous progress just by doing that every day."
Broxton's adjustments were also largely mental. Like many athletic youngsters, Broxton struggled early in his pro career as he tried to pull every pitch out of the park.
"I'll be trying to hit a home run before I even swing," he said. "You can't hit like that."
That mind-set crept back into Broxton's head in his 14 games this season, accounting for his early struggles. Broxton thought he corrected that flaw Monday, which led directly to his breakout performance.
"You have to see the ball and react," he said. "That's what happened today. The last couple games, I've been getting myself into pretty good counts and just trying to do way too much.
"I just have to stay within myself and use my hands and let my natural ability take over."