Back to basics for Patterson

Patterson focuses on fundamentals this winter

MESA, Ariz. -- Corey Patterson is starting over.

After a frustrating season with the Chicago Cubs in which he hit only .215, Patterson will spend this offseason revamping his hitting stroke. He got started four days after the regular season ended in the cages at HoHoKam Park. It could save his career.

"It's nobody's fault. I did it," Patterson said in an interview in Mesa, Ariz., where he was watching his brother, Eric, play in the Arizona Fall League. "Sometimes you have to make things simple and get back to basic stuff."

Patterson took the first step when he worked with Dave Keller, the team's Minor League roving hitting instructor. The two met in July when the Cubs decided the center fielder needed to do something to get back on track. Patterson was batting .232 when he was sent to Triple-A Iowa after a July 7 doubleheader against Atlanta. Keller and Patterson met at the Cubs' facility in Mesa.

"I said, 'We're trying to get you out of your comfort zone,'" Keller said.

Patterson had been successful with bad mechanics, and the Cubs wanted him to make some adjustments.

"How many guys will come to Arizona in July?" Keller said. "We hit in that cage and it's 115 degrees and we're hitting on the field, and it was hot. It was smokin' hot. We worked.

"There were drills I wanted to do with him just to figure out where his balance was, just to figure out where he was with all his movement," Keller said. "There were some drills he didn't like, and some he liked. We tried to use the drills he liked to help him get to another stage in his swing. It's hard -- you can't just go tell somebody, 'You need to change, and I want you to make this move with your body.' It's very, very hard physically to get guys in the right position. The first thing you're going to want to do is revert back to your old habits."

Patterson was receptive to Keller's teachings. In one of his first games with Iowa in Des Moines, he smashed a home run over the scoreboard in right field.

"There are a couple times during the year when I go 'Wow.' That was one of those times," Keller said. "It's amazing to think he can create that much bat speed and that much leverage with the body he has. That's why he has special ability.

"Everybody I talked to -- and this shouldn't be taken negatively -- I've never been around a player that small who has that much bat speed, that much hand-eye coordination, that much power," Keller said of Patterson. "The ball jumps off his bat."

Keller has worked with Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome in the Cleveland Indians organization. He's talked with Eddie Murray about hitting. He even had Murray talk to Patterson for another perspective.

When Patterson was called back to the Cubs, Keller said he felt as if one of his kids was going off to college.

"I care about these kids," Keller said. "He's still a kid. They're all kids. I was anxious because I wanted to see if he could apply some of the things we were talking about and also realizing he's been doing that for three, four, five years now and any time guys get in stressful situations -- you're in front of 45,000 people at Wrigley Field and you can't hear a thing because it's so loud and that's an unbelievable stressful sitatuion. You have to find a way to relax and deal with it and say, 'Hey, I can trust myself' and let it go."

It sounds as if Keller would've preferred to have Patterson stay in the Minors rather than rejoin the Cubs.

"I probably would've been excited for that to happen," he said. "But the situation dictated that, 'Hey, we need you.'"

Patterson was needed when Jerry Hairston was injured, and he was called up Aug. 9. But he couldn't shake his old habits, and finished the second half hitting a meager .175.

"I'm a good athlete," Patterson said. "Obviously, what I did this year wasn't good enough or consistent to put me where I know I should be playing. And there's more to games than just hitting. I didn't do good this year, but I can do more than just hit. A lot of people, if they can't hit, they're no good. It's a big part but I can help this team with more than just with my bat. I know I can do everything in this game. I know I need to work on my hitting."

Which is why he'll devote much of the winter to creating a better foundation for his swing. He has erased the 2005 season from his mind.

"That's what you've got to do," Patterson said. "Make your adjustments and go from there."

"So many times we make this game more complicated than it really is," Keller said. "We analyze so many things that go on with it. I think it's OK as coaches to analyze but you have to simplify it for the player. If you get too analytical, you turn them into robots. I don't want guys going to the plate thinking where their arms are, or if their elbow is too high or where their hands are. 'Am I too spread out? Am I close enough to the plate?'"

The first step: establish a solid foundation. A hitter needs to be comfortable, natural, plus have an understanding of what the pitcher is going to do as well as a feeling for how he'll react, Keller said.

"Corey got into too many habits that created that comfort zone," Keller said. "People are expecting him to do this and this and this, and he's trying to deal with expectations. It creates a lot of stress. It creates stress from the fans' standpoint, from the front office because they want this guy to be this great player who they project him to be. And he wants to be a great player because he wants to get the most out of his ability and he wants to live up to his repuation. It can snowball one way or the other."

Right now, Patterson needs to work on his swing without worrying about a pitcher's changeup or what the count is or whether he has to drive in a run.

"If I were to keep doing stuff like I did this season, I'd be doing the same stuff and it doesn't matter if the season kept going, or they put me in a high school game or winter ball," Patterson said. "I'm not opposed to doing anything extra but I have to get the basics down first."

Eventually, Patterson will join teammate Michael Barrett, who has established a baseball camp in the Atlanta area. Cubs Minor League infielder Richard Lewis also was expected to participate.

Can Patterson succeed in the big leagues? Keller has no doubts.

"That's the big question -- is this guy salvageable? Does this guy still have a chance to be a big league player? I said, 'Absolutely yes. Absolutely,'" Keller said, relaying a conversation he had with some of the Cubs' front office. "I believe in this kid. It's not just because I worked with him. I believe in this guy. And it's a work in progress."

Expect to see a new Corey Patterson in '06.

"I have no where to go but up," Patterson said. "I didn't do that great this year. I'm looking to make the adjustments and improve."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.