Rob Refsnyder feels he got comfortable with two very important baseball situations while at the University of Arizona -- hitting with men on base and handling off-speed pitches.
The Yankees' 2012 fifth-round pick showcased that comfort Tuesday, turning a bases-loaded curveball into a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the seventh inning while collecting a career-high six RBIs in Class A Advanced Tampa's 9-5 win over Palm Beach.
The grand slam alone gave Refsnyder a career high in RBIs, as the previous best in his short pro career was three. He also singled in a run in the first and doubled in another in the third.
"I've been batting second in the order a lot here, so the RBI situations have been tough to come by," Refsnyder said. "It's nice to help out by driving in some runs."
The grand slam came during a seven-run seventh that brought Tampa back from a 4-2 deficit. After Mason Williams knocked an RBI single, Refsnyder slammed Robert Stock's curveball over the wall in left field for a 7-4 edge.
While most of Refsnyder's professional success has come in a table-setting role, he got very used to hitting with men on base while at Arizona. The second baseman batted in the cleanup spot for the Wildcats, and while he was obviously effective at driving runners in, the experience also gave him a chance to develop his pitch recognition and selection skills in a way that's proven beneficial at the professional level.
"I would hit with runners in scoring position a lot, so I saw a lot of off-speed," the 22-year-old said. "When guys were throwing off-speed in the first or second pitch of the at-bat, usually you're going to take that."
The Laguna Hills, Calif., native worked with Arizona's coaches -- first Mark Wasikowski and later Matt Siegel and Andy Lopez -- on identifying pitches to punish early, and also gaining confidence in his two-strike approach.
"Pitchers will get two strikes on you," Refsnyder said. "But sometimes they give the hitters a little too much of the benefit of the doubt. It's a competition between you and the pitcher with two strikes, and that's kind of what they instilled in all of us hitters at Arizona.
"I got comfortable hitting with two strikes in my freshman and sophomore years, and then junior year, I got really comfortable with it. I'm fortunate to have that in my game."
That confidence and selectivity have served Refsnyder well in pro ball. The right-handed hitter began 2013 at Class A Charleston, and after batting .370 with a .933 OPS in 13 games, quickly earned a promotion to Tampa.
The infielder hit .404 in 12 games in April and has been solid since, especially when it comes to fulfilling his top-of-the-order responsibilities. Refsnyder has drawn 49 walks while striking out 48 times in 79 games and has a .267 average and .386 on-base percentage with Tampa.
He's also cut his strikeout rates down since the beginning of the season -- after fanning in 24.2 percent of his at-bats in May, he whiffed on 14.5 percent of at-bats in June and has struck out in 13.6 percent of at-bats in July.
Even if his other numbers have fluctuated some -- Refsnyder was hitting just .148 in July prior to Tuesday -- he's confident that if he's sticking to his approach and putting balls in play, the results will eventually come.
"I think I've been pretty mechanically all year," he said. "If you look at July, I haven't struck out that much. It's just been a little tough luck.
"There have been some stretches of the year where I've been in trouble trying to expand the zone too much. Really, I'm trying to dial it down to a certain location. I feel like, as a hitter, you should go up there and try to hit something you want to hit. If you go up there trying to hit everything, you won't have much success at low-A or high-A or at any level."
Refsnyder's RBI output was helped by the presence of leadoff man Mason Williams. The Yankees' No. 2 prospect and the 31st-rated player on MLB.com's Top 100 was 4-for-6 with a triple, a double, an RBI and three runs (all as a result of Refsnyder driving him in).
The speedy 21-year-old center fielder has been turning his season around since a disappointing first half. After hitting .240 with a .651 OPS in 59 first-half games, Williams has batted .389 with a .977 OPS for Tampa in the second half.
"Mason's as talented a defensive outfielder as I've ever seen," Refsnyder said. "Early on this year, things weren't going his way and he was working on some things. … He's so talented. We all knew it was a matter of time.
"I think the beginning of the season was good for Mason, and I think he's worked extra hard with [batting coach] Marcus [Thames], getting in early and staying late and he works hard. I'm really happy to see him succeeding."