Most hitters prefer to do their damage early in the count. Not Nick Rickles, who said his new approach of hitting like he's always in a two-strike count has made all the difference.
The Athletics catching prospect went 5-for-5 with a homer, double and two RBIs to lead a season-high 19-hit attack Saturday night as Class A Beloit beat Quad Cities, 8-6, at Pohlman Field.
"I'm a much better hitter with two strikes, when I just try to put the barrel to the ball and not try to do too much," Rickles explained. "I can still hit for a little power, but I'm more comfortable in the box [with two strikes]."
The 23-year-old backstop hit .177 in 135 at-bats during the first half of the Midwest League season. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting .363 over 91 at-bats. He credits work with batting coach Casey Myers for simplifying his approach and more playing time for the turnaround.
"Just getting consistent at-bats [has made the difference]," he said. "Me and Bruce Maxwell, before he got called up to Stockton, we would kind of platoon, so I was hitting once every two days. I've been playing pretty consistently, getting live at-bats every day, and I'm taking [my new] approach into the game. You want live at-bats to try it out."
The Fort Lauderdale native has hit safely in eight of his last nine games at a .410 clip (16-for-39) and recorded his first career five-hit game Saturday.
"I was just taking it pitch by pitch, I saw a lot fastballs on the first pitch," he said. "I'm always looking to get in hitting counts and I was in hitter's counts tonight. You try to lay off bad pitches and swing at good ones."
Rickles needed a triple to hit for the cycle when he came to the plate in his final two at-bats but laced singles in the sixth and eighth innings.
"I didn't know about it until after the game when I got in the stands with my mom," he said. "As a competitor, I'm just trying to put a good swing on it and get a hit. Obviously, a triple would help out the team, but I'm not trying to change my approach from what worked."
The 2011 14th-round Draft pick plans to maintain his two-strike approach, no matter the count heading forward.
"Sometimes you get your first two hits and try to do more. You get two hits and then try to hit a bomb, but you have to continue to do whatever you're successful with, continuing that mental approach," Rickles said.
Aaron Shipman contributed three singles and scored twice, while John Wooten collected went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs for the Snappers. A's No. 6 prospect Renato Nunez singled twice, drove in a run and scored once.
Kris Hall (4-1) got the win, despite allowing four runs on five hits in two innings in relief of starter Andres Avila. Tyler Vail worked around a hit over two scoreless frames for his fourth save.