Hooks' Birk busts out of slump with big night

Astros prospect collects career-high five hits, drives in two runs

Ryne Birk has 10 multi-hit games in the Texas League over the last two seasons. (Tammy Tucker/MiLB.com)

By Andrew Battifarano / MiLB.com | April 21, 2018 1:45 AM

Ryne Birk is the first to admit that he broke camp with his swing a little out of sync. But a hitting regimen that's benefited at least one Astros All-Star might be helping right the ship for the Houston infield prospect.

"We've been getting on the machine kind of like Carlos Correa does," Birk said. "He likes to amp it up a bit and it slows down game speed a lot. That's helped out a bunch. And getting on the machine it'll be the equivalent of 110, 120 [mph]. It's tough, it's not fun. But it definitely helps slow the game down, you kind of see pitches a little better and you kind of slow your whole body down."

Birk whacked a career-high five hits and collected two RBIs on Friday to lead Double-A Corpus Christi to an 11-3 win over Frisco at Dr Pepper Park. Fourth-ranked Yordan Alvarez chipped in two doubles and drove in four runs as the Hooks totaled 17 hits.

Gameday box score

"I know it's early, but you definitely want to get off on a little higher note than that," the Texas A&M product said. "But it was a good night tonight, I've put in a lot of work with our hitting coach, Coach [Troy] Snitker. Luckily, a couple of them fell tonight and it was good to get things rolling again."

Noticing that Birk looked dejected in the dugout after a frustrating game earlier in the season, manager Omar Lopez and Snitker had a conversation with him in hopes of lightening the mood. Lopez thinks the talk could help spark a quick turnaround.

"He's been working pretty hard to get back on his timing, his approach that he had in Spring Training, because he probably lost it on the plane from West Palm Beach on the way to Corpus Christi," the skipper said. "He's done a tremendous job working every single day and he's been making steady steps. Tonight was one of his nights.

"We're talking about a super, super kid. He conducts himself in the right way, plays hard and does everything that you can to succeed on the field."

Video: Birk smacks fifth hit for Corpus Christi

In 118 games between Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Corpus Christi last year, Birk finished with a .266/.325/.430 slash line, 15 homers and 75 RBIs. The 23-year-old, who had six hits in his first 11 games this season, raised his average 94 points to .250. The discussions with Lopez and Snitker have helped his performance and mindset over the last week or so.

"I try to keep the same approach, stay relaxed and swing at good pitches," Birk said. "Luckily, everything kind of slowed down a bit and saw some tough pitches to lay off and I did lay off them. They were called balls and I was able to get ahead in the count and kind of got better pitches to hit. That's the plan for every hitter -- get ahead in the count -- and get pitches that are a fastball or a hanging slider now and again."

With two outs in the second, Birk began his big night with a single to right field against starter Wes Benjamin. The 2016 13th-round pick led off the fifth with a single up the middle and started the following frame by beating out a grounder to short. 

After flaring another infield hit to the left side in the seventh, Birk pulled an RBI knock to right off Clayton Cook to cap his perfect night at the dish. The West Virginia native felt a sense of relief as he touched first for the fifth time, and his teammates made sure to add to the special moment.

"I'm not much of a jokester and I'm not someone who talks too much during the game, I like to focus in," Birk said. "But everyone in the dugout was kind of going nuts for me. It was a pretty cool feeling and everyone was kind of pumping me up. It was pretty cool."

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As for Alvarez, the 20-year-old ripped a two-strike double to center in the third before delivering a bases-clearing two-bagger to left an inning later. The Cuba native added to his strong effort with an RBI groundout in the seventh. Through 12 games in the Texas League, Alvarez sports a .298 average, six extra-base hits and a .914 OPS.

Lopez likes what he's seen from the 6-foot-5, 225-pound outfielder in the small sample, but knows Alvarez has more room to develop at the plate.

"I think one of the biggest things with Yordan is his ability to put the barrel on the ball -- he's disciplined," Lopez said. "When he clicks with everything around the plate and with his approach, he's going to be able to do more good stuff on the field. He's got power to the opposite side, too. And when things hang there, he'll be able to pull it."

Ryan Hartman (1-0) picked up his first win of the year after allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk with four strikeouts over six frames. Kevin Hill tossed three hitless innings, issuing one walk while punching out three, en route to his first Double-A save.

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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