Ashley Graeter had been looking for his hitting stroke all season.
It’s usually the last place you look.
Graeter, a second-year utilityman for the Tri-City Dust Devils, found his at Memorial Stadium in Boise.
Before the Tri-City arrived in Boise for a five-game Northwest League series, Graeter and the Dust Devils were hurting. The team was mired in a five-game losing streak and Graeter was hitting just .065 (2-for-31).
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After he entered the batters box at Memorial Stadium, few have been better than Graeter. He appears to have put a slow June behind him, rebounding with a strong July, hitting .444 (8-for-18) in hist last five games.
The Southern Mississippi University product has a five-game hitting streak, including three multi-hit games, and has reached base in six straight. He’s still hitting just .204, but he has come a long way toward turning his season around.
“I’m progressively getting more comfortable. Early on, I was hitting balls right at guys and getting discouraged,” Graeter said. “I kept pushing and working hard. Finally, I had a couple balls fall in for me.”
Even better, when he caught fire, the Dust Devils started winning, taking 4-of-5 from the Hawks — the first time Tri-City has won more than two games in a row this season.
“Hitting got contagious for a little bit. The biggest thing we did on offense was stick to our approach. We’re not going to hit home runs, but we can line drive you to death.”
Tri-City hitting coach Warren Schaeffer has noticed a difference in Graeter’s approach.
“Right now he’s found a really good place. He’s learning to slow the game down, and it’s really paying off for him,” Schaeffer said. “We’re doing all slow work (in the batting cage) with his body. Starting his swing earlier.”
Graeter also worked to increase his value on defense, learning how to play catcher after spending most of his life as a shortstop.
“It’s something different. I went to instructionals (last fall) and started catching there. They told me to work on it in the offseason and be ready to start catching games,” Graeter said. “I feel really comfortable. I’ve been able to catch a lot of these pitchers, and I feel like I understand their stuff.”
He’s also been able to handle a few curveballs (so to speak) that are often thrown to catchers. When he was crossed up in spring training on a changeup that turned into a curve, he was able to put his quick hands to work.
“I was able to swat it away,” Graeter said. “It would have been different if it was a fastball. If it had been (Tri-City pitcher Huascar) Brazoban, that’s a whole different animal.”
Notes: The Dust Devils welcomed a former NWL All-Star back to Tri-City, bringing back OF Kyle Von Tungeln, who hit .258 with a team-high .401 on base percentage. In three games with Tri-City, Von Tungeln already is tied for fourth in the league with two triples. In fact, the three hits he has have all been for extra bases (he doubled in the Dust Devils’ 4-1 win over Hillsboro on Wednesday).