Inside fastballs tripped up Nick Solak a night ago. He wasn't going to let that happen again. The Rays' 12th-ranked prospect went deep twice on a pair of heaters and drove in five runs in Triple-A Durham's 6-1 victory over Toledo on Wednesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Inside fastballs tripped up Nick Solak a night ago. He wasn't going to let that happen again.
The Rays' 12th-ranked prospect went deep twice on a pair of heaters and drove in five runs in Triple-A Durham's 6-1 victory over Toledo on Wednesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
"[Tuesday], the fastballs in might have been a little too far in, and I chased them," he said. "That might have contributed to them beating me. ... Showing up to the park today, I had it in the back of my mind about the game last night and, in my work today, I just made sure I wanted to remind myself to push it out over the plate and put a good swing on it."
In his first two full seasons in the Minor Leagues, Solak accrued a pair of multi-homer games. He polished off his next two in a 10-day span, having homered twice against Columbus -- both solo shots -- on June 2. This time, his long balls were more productive, but he wasn't thinking about the previous performance.
"I was just trying to put a good swing on some pitches and I ran into it," he said.
Facing Mud Hens starter Tim Adleman (2-2) with two on and two out in the first inning, the University of Louisville product mashed a 3-2 offering over the tall wall in left-center field to give the Bulls an early 3-0 lead.
Gameday box score
After Michael Brosseau drew a walk to open the fourth, Solak worked a 3-1 count and took the right-hander deep again.
"I think the second one was probably a little more out over the plate," the Woodridge, Illinois, native said. "They seemed like they were trying to bust me in with heaters, starting last night. Last night, I was getting beat a little bit by the fastball. It was nice to get to them."
He popped up and grounded out in his final two at-bats.
The showing was a continuation of a hot start to June for the 24-year-old, who is batting .364/.408/.750 over 11 contests this month. Solak has trended upward with each month -- he hit .250 in April and .289 in May -- and is batting .291 with a .894 OPS on the year. His 41 runs scored are tied for seventh in the International League, and he has 12 homers and 34 RBIs.
Solak doesn't attribute his steady improvement to anything other than a consistent approach at the dish, plus the Bulls' deep lineup.
"One through nine, on a nightly basis, I'm sure other pitching staffs think it's a tough lineup to try and get through," he said. "When you have guys in the lineup with you playing really well and stringing good at-bats together, it could be anyone to get the big hit or the big homer. A lot of the time, with this team, there's guys on base ahead of you. So over the last month, it's just not trying to do too much and I know the guys ahead of me and behind are getting on base and getting jobs done, so it's a matter of doing the same."
The infielder, who has also seen time in left field and center this year, said his emphasis on relaxing has done wonders.
"Just taking deep breaths in the box and in the on-deck circle, walking up to the box," Solak said. "Just trying to stay relaxed and simplify things."
The Yankees selected Solak in the second round of the 2016 Draft. He spent that year with Class A Short Season Staten Island before reaching Double-A the following year and earning an Organization All-Star nod. On Feb. 20, 2018, New York included him in a three-team deal involving Arizona and Tampa Bay. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder enjoyed a solid first season with the Rays, batting .282/.384/.450 with 19 homers and 76 RBIs with Double-A Montgomery, where he was the Southern League Player of the Month for August.
So far, Solak has tackled Triple-A with similar results, even though he said the quality of bullpen arms is markedly better, not to mention the plethora of hurlers with big league experience.
"It's your classic matchup," he said. "It's trying to figure out what he wants to do to you and sticking to your own approach and just battling."
Joe McCarthy homered in the fifth to account for the Bulls' lone run not plated by Solak.
Ryan Merritt allowed one earned run over five innings to improve to 3-4, and Casey Sadler tossed four scoreless innings, striking out five and yielding two hits, to pick up his first save of the year.
Chris Bumbaca is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca.