By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Some things are inevitable — death, taxes and major league baseball teams spending more money on players than the gross national product of Ecuador.
And it is inevitable that Jesse Winker is going to hit and hit with style and grace, notwithstanding his long 0-fer to start the season and his 1 for 21 (.048) crash landing during his team’s eight-game losing streak.
The hints and clues are there. In his last 27 games last season he hit .420. He led the majors in hitting in July at .442. He finished last season at .299 and with one more hit or one less at bat would have hit .300.
The 25-year-old outfielder from Buffalo, N.Y. was born to hit and his heart probably has stitches on it. His hitting zone is foul pole to foul pole, if somebody isn’t standing in the way.
And that was his malaise during his sloggy start. Every time he hit the ball hard, which was often, there was somebody standing there with a glove snatching the ball out of the air.
As did most of his teammates, Winker emerged from the cocoon Tuesday night against the moribund Miami Marlins. Winker chipped in with a two-run home run and a run-scoring single while the Reds were amputating Miami pitchers with 14 runs and 16 hits.
Winker blames analytics for his early demise, which is why so many defenders have been standing exactly where he hits the ball.
“With the information teams have defensively now and everything that’s out there now, to hit the ball right on the barrel and not get a hit is just part of the game,” he said. “It’s part of baseball, always has been a part of baseball, and even moreso now.”
After saying that Winker added, “But, yes, it’s nice to get some results and help the team win.”
Winker and equally star-crossed hitter Scott Schebler, who had a home run and three hits Tuesday, were at Great American Ball Park early Tuesday for some extra-curricular hitting.
“No matter what you do for a living, if you are not performing you have to work a little extra on some things,” said Winker. “I just wanted to get out and work on a couple of little things. Nothing major, just get a few extra swings.”
Winker is wise enough to know that one game of a couple of hits doesn’t mean anything more than getting only one hit in nine games.
“It’s a day-by-day thing and one game doesn’t define anything, just as 10 games don’t define anything,” he said.
Winker said first base coach Delino DeShields emphasized that time-after-time when Winker hit a ball hard but it was caught and he had to head back to the dugout, passing DeShields on the way.
“Sure everybody wants to get off to a good start, but it’s a marathon, it really is,” he said. “Every time I hit a ball hard and touched first and had to run by Delino he would say, ‘Hey, it’s a marathon.’ And I appreciate him doing that for me. You just keep your head down and I have a great group of guys in this clubhouse saying, ‘Ten games. Just ten games. So keep on going.’”
Their message was not to look too deeply into a sloggish and sluggish start, but Winker admits, “It’s hard not to look too much into it.”
There were times, though, Winker was detected showing some emotional reaction after hitting a ball squarely, barreling it up, hitting it on the screws and watching the ball land harmlessly into a glove.
“It’s just baseball, just how it goes sometimes,” he said. “The guys make plays on you and they are in the right spot now, so it is part of the game.”
Nobody is more supportive of Winker than manager David Bell. And he lumped him into the rest of the team that was shut out four times during the eight-game losing streak before exploding Tuesday night.
“We talk about the confidence coming when the success happens,” he said. “As much as they work on it, they believe it is going to happen. But until it actually happens it is hard to get that confidence. You need success and there was a lot of it Tuesday night, the power (five home runs) and the damage.”
And in the case of Winker, he said, “He is a great example because he is a guy who we know is going to hit. We know he’ll continue to get better, especially early-on when you are not getting results when you are hitting the ball hard.
“It is real easy to try to do too much, but to Winker’s credit he has stayed within himself,” Bell added. “He remains confident and having a big night like that takes a little pressure off, but more than ever it is easier to believe in yourself because you see the results.”
Nothing irritates Winker more than people mispronouncing his name and it happens all too often. They want to stick in an ‘l’ in his name, making it Winkler. “Can’t they see there is no ‘l’ in my name,” he says with a shake of the head.
Even a well-known broadcaster on MLB-TV called him Winkler three times in a couple of minutes during a show this week. Maybe if he keeps hitting they’ll stop confusing him with Henry Winkler of ‘Happy Day’s fame.