Sunday, May 21, 2006

Tinkering with Chris Duffy's Swing Undermines Him

The Pirates are trying to reason with outfielder Chris Duffy, now on the restricted list. Duffy is in danger of being moved to the ineligible list and losing his pay if he continues to refuse his demotion to AAA Indianapolis. Though Duffy batted .341 in 126 at-bats for the Pirates last year, and at 26 should be ready for major league play, the Pirates have been dissatisfied with him because he hits what manager Jim Tracy and batting coach Jeff Manto see as an unacceptable number of fly balls. They want Duffy to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed to leg out grounders as a leadoff hitter. Duffy realizes these conflicts with Little and Manto are not going to go away, and he's right. Rather than accept Duffy for whom he is, Manto began tinkering with Duffy's swing during spring camp, interfering to the point that Duffy no longer seems to know what he's doing. The case is similar to that of Corey Patterson, now thriving in Baltimore, whom the Cubs manager Dusty Baker nearly destroyed by trying to convert him into a leadoff hitter. Duffy feels compelled to escape the Pittsburgh atmosphere, where underachievement is the order of the day. Ironically, his minor league batting averages, almost always in the neighborhood of .300, suggest Duffy should be a natural at the plate.