Thursday, April 20, 2006

Adrian Beltre Projects Image of Man Disturbed

Looking at Seattle's Adrian Beltre up close, very close, one sees a man uncomfortable at the plate, ill at ease in a baseball uniform and even in his own body. Standing in the on-deck circle, arriving for batting practice or on his way to his automobile after the game, Adrian Beltre seems preoccupied, disturbed, troubled in some elusive way, like a man who has just missed a bus, or maybe has lost his wallet. Or perhaps it is the Mariners wallet he has lost. Having signed with Seattle for $64 million following his breakout year in '04 for the Dodgers, when he batted .334 with 48 homers, Adrian Beltre has disappointed ever since. Beltre hit only .256 with 19 homers last year, and at the end of last week had been dropped to No. 7 in the batting order after a poor camp and hitting only .109 with no home runs so far this season. It's early but the answer to Beltre's continued underachieving may be attributed to a physical problem associated with his banner performance two years ago, a physical problem that Beltre no longer has. Those familiar with the Dodgers trainer's room know that Beltre suffered from a lower leg strain in '04 that caused him to compensate by favoring his left foot at the plate, keeping his weight on his right foot and staying back when he swung the bat through the zone. The resulting change in his stance vastly improved his contact with the ball and his follow-through, and thus led to his radically improved numbers for that season. The injury has since passed, and Beltre now is his old self, lunging at pitches again and again and pulling grounders down the third base line because he simply cannot help it. More and more, even at the tender age of 26, Beltre seems like a player with little promise of ever living up to his long projected potential.