CHICAGO — When Chad Tracy was with the Arizona Diamondbacks and his role began to change — to transition from that of an everyday player to that of a bench contributor — he began to see the game differently.
Sitting on the bench with veterans like Tony Clark for several innings each night, Tracy and Clark would hash out game situations and debate what they’d do if they were the manager. They’d try to predict, he said, where they might be used and help to prepare themselves for when their name was called.
On the Nationals’ bench on Saturday, Tracy was still doing that.
“I’m trying to think with Davey and figure out where I’m going to be slotted in to pinch hit,” Tracy said.
So he watched and he figured that since Johnson had double-switched out Mark DeRosa for the pitcher the previous half-inning, if the Cubs brought in Carlos Marmol, or any other right-hander, he knew it’d probably be his turn.
“I knew that was going to be my at-bat and I played it through my head before I (went) up there and just (tried) to stay positive and aggressive,” Tracy said.
The Nationals were then rewarded with Tracy’s second timely hit in as many games as Tracy drove in the game-winning runs in the team’s 7-4 victory.
Pinch hitting is a difficult thing for an awful lot of hitters, especially when your role gets reduced to be almost exclusively that. It’s difficult to find a rhythm, it’s difficult to find your timing. It’s just difficult.
But because of injuries and opportunity this spring, Tracy spent much of February acting like an everyday player. He got more at-bats than only Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and the playing time has proved extremely important for him now as he continues to deliver cold off the bench.
Even Saturday, after watching Jayson Werth work a walk, Tracy came up and fouled off the first two pitches he saw. He wasn’t planning to be patient, he knew his approach immediately.
“I’m looking for something out over the pate, hard, that I can hit up the middle,” Tracy said Saturday. “I caught it a click out in front and hit it to the right side, but I think that’s the approach most guys take, so you can stay on a breaking ball if he does spin something.
“It’s one at-bat. You’ve got to go up there and be ready and aggressive. That’s the bottom line. I think every pinch hitter will tell you that they aren’t up there to draw a walk.”
Tracy came into camp knowing that he was a longshot to make the team. As Adam LaRoche put it, “he’d be the first one to tell you that his chances weren’t great.” But he took advantage of the opportunities and playing time that came his way and proved to the Nationals’ brass that he could still hit. As he did that, he became more and more a part of the team — but it didn’t happen immediately.
“I think it was earned,” Tracy said. “As far as being a teammate and earning the respect of those guys, I think it took all of spring training. All through camp, the guys were great. I felt like I fit in, but then not until you perform on the field do you get that level of respect.”