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The Leadoff Nit
2003-04-07 08:30
by Jon Weisman

With nitpicking opportunities galore from the Padres series, I'm gonna go with Dave Roberts.

Roberts has one walk through six games, to go with his five hits. Batting slumps will always come, for individuals as well as teams, but you can mitigate them with the ability to draw a free pass.

As the leadoff hitter, it is more important for Roberts than for anyone else to maintain that skill.

The home run and triple Roberts hit against Arizona should have only helped him do this. Instead, Roberts staggered through San Diego, rarely making good contact, nor giving the Padre pitchers any reason to be scared of him. And to those pitchers' credit, they executed. They did not walk a slumping hitter.

HereÕs RobertsÕ first at-bat Sunday:

Pitch 1: ball 1
Pitch 2: ball 2
Pitch 3: strike 1 (looking)
Pitch 4: in play
D. Roberts grounded out to pitcher.

The good news is that Roberts took three pitches, so I suppose that itÕs no sin that he swung. But with the count and selectivity in his favor, Roberts has to do better than hit a comebacker. And frankly, when both he and the team are slumping, Roberts should consider taking even more pitches.

Coming off the successful series against Arizona, Roberts saw seven pitches in each of his first two at-bats against the Padres, walking in the second plate appearance. After that, the Padres took the lead off Kazuhisa Ishii, and Roberts immediately became less patient.

In his next three plate appearances, Roberts saw five, five and four pitches. Then, in each game in the rest of the series, he had exactly one plate appearance of more than four pitches.

In basketball, they say that the best way to revive a slumping offense is to play good defense that will generate opportunities. The same approach might help Roberts and the Dodgers.

The hope here is not that Roberts does not become a defensive hitter. But he needs to continue to work proactively on drawing walks, rather than depending on an opposing pitcherÕs wildness. Walks need to be a fundamental part of his game, not a byproduct of his game.

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