PORT CHARLOTTE — This much seems universally obvious: Reid Brignac isn't going to struggle at the plate as much as he did last season for the Rays.
Either Brignac is going to hit better or he's not going to hit as often.
The Rays first sat him down, then sent him down to Triple A as he struggled his way to a .193 average, five total extra-base hits and a .448 on-base plus slugging percentage over 92 games (76 starts) at shortstop. And it only follows they would be less patient if it happens again.
"I can't do what I did again last year," Brignac acknowledges. "That's not me. I've never done that."
Brignac's spirit was so sapped and his confidence drained, he took six weeks off at the start of the winter just to clear his head. He feels he has recovered well — while also dealing with the pending birth of his first child, confident he and former girlfriend (and Playboy model) Lauren Anderson can handle the complexities of not being together — is certain he can improve and has worked hard to do so.
The end result is what matters most, and the Rays have some ideas, keyed to cutting down his swing and working better at-bats.
Brignac seems to have others.
"I went back to a lot of things I used to do when I was younger and made me successful when I was driving balls and hitting for power and stop worrying, stop just trying to get singles and hit little base hits," said Brignac, 26.
"They want me to be able to do that, and I can do that now. But I don't need to do that all the time. I need to be myself and how I used to be. I used to hit 15 homers a year and hit 30-40 doubles a year. Who wouldn't want that? I know I do. And that's what I'm trying to get back to."
Doing so in the minors — he averaged 15 homers and 30 doubles over five years from Class A to Triple A — is different than against major-league pitching.
But Brignac is determined he can do so if he gets to do it his way.
"From the beginning of spring training to the end of the year, I want to look the same instead of changing this, trying this, doing this and that," he said. "I'm just going to do what I usually do, and we're going to see how that works."
The Rays, though, talk more about the need for Brignac to adjust his swing (which tends to be long and loopy) and redefine his pitch selection while becoming a better situational and more complete hitter.
"He has some power, and that sometimes can be a detriment became sometimes guys have enough power to become not such a good hitter," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're trying to get him to be a little more flat with his swing and with that be able to handle a wider variety of pitches within the strike zone and utilizing the whole field because of that."
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman notes they're "not looking for a middle-of-the-order bat," and said another key is for Brignac to improve the quality of his at-bats.
"He's an aggressive hitter by nature, so it's just refining that a bit and getting him to reorganize the strike zone a little bit better, which will put him in position to get a better pitch to drive," Friedman said.
Brignac acknowledged there were other contributing issues last year, in which he was supposed to take over as the starter following the trade of Jason Bartlett but ended up miserable.
The Rays started giving him more days off when his struggles carried into mid May, and he said the "inconsistent" playing time made it worse as he was — perhaps erroneously — expecting to play every day. And he admittedly didn't handle it well, taking it "more personally than anything" and doubting Maddon's confidence in him.
Brignac said he felt like no matter what he tried — including "changing things around off the field to where I was getting my rest" — didn't help and, for the first time, he wasn't enjoying playing.
With a winter's reflection, he says he has learned from his failures and will be better for it.
"I can't go down that path again," he said. "I can't."
One way or another.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]