Keston Hiura admits that he wasn't himself at the plate to start the season, and he was straying from his normal approach. But the top-ranked Brewers prospect has heated up gradually over the last week, and that trend continued Friday with his best performance of the season.
Hiura delivered a career-high four hits, scored three times and drove in two runs to lead Class A Advanced Carolina to a 9-6 win over Down East at Five County Stadium. MLB.com's No. 54 overall prospect homered and singled three times.
Video: Hiura goes yard for Mudcats
Following an 0-for-4 game on April 22, Hiura saw his average dip to .180. But the 2017 first-round pick has hit safely in eight of his last 10 games -- including six multi-hit efforts -- to raise his slash line to .272/.321/.417. Hiura credited simplifying his approach with generating much stronger results.
"I think at the very beginning I might have been going out of my plan, out of the way I want to go about my at-bats," he said. "So, it's been learning from those and from the pitchers and how they're pitching me. I think it took a little bit of time to kind of click. It's more about hitting my pitch versus theirs. It's about hitting good pitches and making good contact -- that's what I was trying to look for. When you do that, the more it'll fall."
In his first season as a professional, Hiura hit .371/.422/.611 with four homers and 33 RBIs in 42 games between the Rookie-level Arizona League and the Class A Midwest League. In 25 games this year, the 21-year-old native of Southern California has three homers and 11 RBIs. He said he's making progress at the new level but knows there are more adjustments that can be made as the season progresses.
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"You can tell that there's a little bit better competition up here," he admitted. "It's kind of similar [to the Midwest League] in the sense of how you go about your business. Obviously, pitchers have better stuff and the game is played a little faster. But it's the same game I've always played. It's just taking every pitcher the same, every day the same -- it's kind of how I go about my business. It's just doing that, and I think that's big for me. I'm happy to be here in Carolina, they're a great team and it's a great atmosphere. I'm loving it so far."
Facing 22-ranked Rangers prospect Michael Matuella in the first inning, Hiura fell behind, 0-2, before driving the ball over the right field wall for his third homer of the year.
"I kind of want to take the same swing as I would with no strikes or one strike." he said. "I'm pretty confident in myself and my two-strike at-bats. It's just a matter of limiting the chase pitches. I think being able to do all that helps with two strikes, putting a good barrel on it. Other than that, it's just about see the ball, hit the ball and just put the ball in play."
Hiura jumped on the first pitch of the third inning for a single up the middle and delivered a base hit to left in the fourth. The UC Irvine product flied to left in the sixth but came through with his fourth hit in the eighth, driving in Ryan Aguilar from third. Hiura didn't expect to see many pitches over the plate in his final plate appearance, and he belted a mistake from reliever Jacob Shortslef.
Video: Hiura collects his fourth hit for Carolina
"It felt good. Getting into that situation, I didn't know if they were going to throw me much up in the zone," he said. "I thought that they were going to get me to chase with a base open. But it was just limiting the pitches that I want to hit, just pump the ball up and get the ball into the outfield and score a run. He left a ball up and I jumped on it."
After dealing with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow dating back to 2016, Hiura underwent a platelet-enriched plasma injection prior to his junior season of college. While he's been able to avoid Tommy John surgery with help from the injection, Hiura has been penciled in as a DH in all 25 games this season after playing only three games at second base last year.
The middle infielder hopes he can break out his glove during a game at some point in the near future.
"I think the next step for me is staying on the field and being healthy for that time," he said. "I definitely want to improve my at-bats and continue to get those going. But I'm definitely looking forward to getting back on the field."
Aguilar and Weston Wilson each smacked two hits, while Dallas Carroll drove in four runs to round out the Mudcats' offense.
For the Wood Ducks, Josh Altmann homered twice and drove in three runs, while No. 12 Rangers prospect Anderson Tejeda was 3-for-5.