Luke Scott ran his hand across the light stubble of a beard he’s been wearing this spring and admitted Tuesday that there is just one more thing he has to do before he’ll feel like he’s ready for Opening Day.
Grow back his Wolverine chops.
Beyond that, Scott says he feels good enough physically to start the season right now and when you consider the way the Rays designated hitter has been hitting the ball of late you can see why.
With the shoulder problems that plagued him all of last season now gone, Scott has clearly regained the power stroke that once made him one of the most productive power hitters in the game.
Further evidence of that was presented on Tuesday when Scott ripped the first pitch he saw in the fourth inning from good friend Doug Fister for a grand slam during the Rays 11-5 victory over the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Scott, who averaged 23 homers between the 2007 and 2010 seasons while playing for the Orioles, drilled Fister’s pitch into the Tigers bullpen in right-center field to spark a Rays attack that knocked out 12 hits on the day.
“Yeah, I think I’m pretty close to being ready,’’ Scott said of the season opener against Baltimore that is now less than two weeks away. “I really just need to get into a groove as far as my swing path and rhythm goes.’’
Scott appears to be in groove right now. The homer off Fister was Scott’s third in 26 spring at-bats and with a third-inning double to go with it he raised his spring average to a healthy .375.
The results are a byproduct of Scott finally ridding himself of the shoulder problems he encountered after he ran into a wall to prevent a Matt Holliday home run while playing for the Orioles in June of 2011.
That catch saved the Orioles a game but it cost Scott and eventually the Rays dearly when Scott’s shoulder problems extended through a 2012 season in which Tampa Bay’s offensive struggles left them out of the playoffs.
Scott likened his own struggles last year to a car hobbling along on three wheels, saying that his shoulder prevented him from properly executing the mechanics of his swing.
“Your lead arm really guides your bat head, but once your shoulder starts to get away you start to lost that,’’ Scott said. “You want the bat head to stay up and go straight through the ball but when it drops you get underneath (the ball).
“It’s really hard to be consistent when that happens and that’s the thing I really had to battle with last year. So it’s good to be able to have that control of the bat head again.’’
Rays Manager Joe Maddon can’t help but think it will be good for the Rays. They ranked 11th or worse in the American League in batting average (.240), runs scored (697), RBI (665) and OPS (.711) last year and their inability to support some of the league’s best pitching with more timely hitting was one of the big reasons they wound up finishing three games behind the Yankees in the race for the American League East title.
Scott’s woes weren’t the only contributing factor of course. Evan Longoria’s hamstring injury helped to derail the offense, too, but Scott and Longoria are both healthy this year and Maddon believes their health will make for a healthier finish for the Rays.
“It could be very big because he’s capable of so much,’’ Maddon said when asked what a bounce-back year by Scott would mead for the Rays. “He’s been a good RBI guy based on at bats and with him feeling well we should see a lot more of that.
“He’s just one of those guys who seems to kind of have a knack for driving in a run, and he’s doing well right now. His swing is more effortless now. It’s almost like it’s an easier swing with better results.
“Last year I think he was concerned about swinging and missing because it would hurt and all of a sudden he would feel it on his shoulder. But all those little dynamics, I don’t think they’re present this year.’’
Neither are those thick Wolverine sideburns that Scott wore a year ago that made him look like he could have doubled for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men movies.
But there’s plenty of time for Scott to grow those back. The more important elements of Scott’s game are already in place, he said, and so now it’s just a matter of grooming them.
“These last two weeks of spring training, all I want to do is continue working on the things I’ve been working on with my swing and not get too crazy,’’ he said. “I don’t need to go crashing into walls or anything. I’ve done that before and it really didn’t work out too well for me.’’