Rangers infield prospect Ryan Rua has always had thunder in his bat, but he's found the rigors of the season tend to zap some of his strength as the year goes on.
Now in his third year as a pro, he's learned to make the necessary adjustments to his routine and eating habits. What he has on his plate directly impacts what he does at the plate.
So far, those changes have produced dramatic results.
Rua went 3-for-4 with a pair of homers and six RBIs in the Class A Hickory Crawdads' 15-4 victory over the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws on Thursday evening.
His 17 homers are more than twice as many as he hit last year and he has moved into a tie with Astros prospect George Springer for the most in the Minors.
"The first two years, I had a tendency to lose weight quickly," Rua said. "I put on 20 or 25 pounds this offseason before Spring Training and I've already lost five pounds of that. I don't know if it's the daily grind of being at the field 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. or if it's the pregame meal or postgame meal or just not getting enough carbs and protein. It all takes a toll on your body.
"But I am working on eating right and having the right diet. I've always known I've had this power in me, it's all clicking for me now."
Second baseman Rua -- who now weighs in at an even 200 pounds -- smacked a three-run homer to left field in the first inning, and after popping out in the second, he added a two-run long ball down the third-base line in the fourth.
"I was just trying to look for a pitch to drive," Rua said of his first homer. "First-pitch fastball middle up and I put a good swing on it and barreled it up. It felt good, it was probably one of the best ones I've hit all year.
"That [third] at-bat, I saw two breaking balls for strikes, then two breaking balls for balls, then I got a fastball up. I used my hands and put it in play. It was elevated already and it took off off my bat to left-center."
It was his fourth multi-homer game of the season and his six RBIs tied a season high set when he went deep twice against Greenville on May 21.
Rua was hit on his left shoulder by a changeup to lead off the sixth and he plated Joey Gallo with a one-out RBI single to center field in the seventh.
"I knew I had a chance to hit three home runs, it's something I've never done," Rua said. "I took a big swing and came out of my shoes a little bit. I looked over at my hitting coach [Justin Mashore] and he reminded me to use my hands."
Selected by the Rangers in the 17th round of the 2011 Draft, Rua has made a point of looking for the fastball whenever he's at the plate.
"I've been working with my hitting coach on not trying to muscle the ball out and just letting it happen," he said. "I'm trying to put myself in good hitting counts, laying off breaking pitches and getting fastballs to hit. I saw a number of breaking pitches, but if I battle and fight them off or take them for balls, eventually I'll work my way back into a fastball count."
In his first year of a full-season league, it may appear Rua has traded contact for power, but he insists that is not the case.
He hit .303 with four homers and 37 RBIs in 52 games across two levels in his rookie year and he batted .293 with seven homers and 43 RBIs in 74 Northwest League contests in 2012.
He has already hit 10 more homers and plated six more runs in 20 fewer games than last year, but he has seen his average drop 46 points from 12 months ago.
"It has just happened, but we still have a long way to go and the average will climb back. It's not something I'm doing on purpose. I've always had a little bit of pop," said Rua, a self-confessed meat-and-potatoes guy who said he's eating more chicken and pasta than ever before mainly because there isn't a Chipotle -- his fast food of choice -- near any of the ballparks he's played in this year.
"I've always been a small guy going through high school and college and now I'm finally putting on weight in pro ball. There aren't a lot of second basemen that put up big, big power numbers."
On Thursday, shortstop Luis Marte homered and plated five runs, catcher Jorge Alfaro was 3-for-5 with a double and left fielder Nick Williams slugged his 10th homer and recorded three RBIs.
Hickory starter Andrew Faulkner (1-0) surrendered two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out eight batters over seven innings in the victory.
Lakewood starter Shane Watson, the Phillies No. 12 prospect, gave up eight runs -- seven earned -- on five hits and two walks while striking out four batters over 1 1/3 innings.
BlueClaws backstop Justin Dalles accounted for all four of the BlueClaws' offense with a pair of two-run homers.