Have you noticed the run Wilmer Difo has been on in recent weeks? Difo, 25, has seen significant time in the lineup with both Trea Turner (fractured wrist) and Stephen Drew (abdominal strain) on the DL, and he’s made the most of the opportunity, impressing his manager in the process.
He’s also taken the advice his manager and coaches have offered and he’s seemingly benefitted from the changes.
Difo put up a .191/.248/.266 line over 47 games and 108 plate appearances between April and the end of June, but Dusty Baker talked in early July about the advice they had for the infielder.
“We just urged him to stay out of the air,” Baker explained, “... because he was hitting a lot of fly balls to left and a lot of fly balls and none of them went out of the ballpark, so the best thing — if you’re up in the air — is to stay out of the air, and so he’s made some adjustments in his swing and his approach.
“We’re working with him and it’s easier to convey these things when a person has some success doing what you’re trying to convey to them.”
Since July 1st, and after last night’s 1 for 3 game, Difo has a .355/.415/.505 line over the last 28 games and 108 plate appearances.
On the year, that’s left him with a .273/.333/.385 line, three doubles, three triples, and four home runs overall in 75 games and 210 PAs on the season.
Difo has played short (predominantly) and some second, batted second and eighth most often when he starts, with one game leading off, some game batting seventh, and he’s enjoyed success wherever Baker has put him in the lineup.
“He’s very steady defensively,” Baker told reporters on Tuesday.
“Offensively, he’s improved. He’s cut down his swing. Early in the year he was up in the air a lot and chasing bad balls because he’s an aggressive hitter, so he’s really brought them into the strike zone, and he’s done well wherever I put him in the lineup.
“He’s batted second. He’s a switch hitter. If they bring in a lefty then if he’s sandwiched between two lefties, then he’s also gotten the pitcher to the plate like I urged him in the eighth spot, which is very, very important, so he’s been great.”
In two seasons with Baker on the bench, Difo, who debuted with 15 games in 2015, has put up a combined .273/.341/.384 line. Will he be able to adjust to a bench role if/when Turner and Drew return? If so, the Nationals could have a great backup option at short and second, speed, and some sneaky pop (with 3 of his 4 HRs in the last 28 games) off the bench, as well as insurance to help out if the injury bug strikes again.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old for just $20,000 in 2010, the modest investment in Difo is paying off... big time, as Baker likes to say.