CLEVELAND -- After the Indians struck out an astounding 1,269 times as a team last year, manager Manny Acta knew something needed to change.
Acta and his coaching staff put an extra emphasis on quality at-bats during Spring Training, particularly hitting with two strikes. The Indians hit just .176 with an on-base percentage of .241 in two-strike counts last season. The strikeouts, though, were the most concerning thing.
"Put the bat on the ball, you give yourself a chance," Acta said. "Strike out, you've got no chance. You're just going back to the dugout either to complain about the pitch or ask somebody if it was too high or too low. That's all there is to it. ... The productive at-bats, moving guys over, getting the sac flies -- if you strike out, that's completely out of the question."
The Indians hitters have changed their two-strike approach this season, and it's showing. Entering Thursday, they were hitting .192 with a .273 on-base percentage in those situations, ranking them among the American League's top five in both categories. Cleveland also has only 518 strikeouts, 90 fewer than it had at this time last year.
"We've got a lot of guys grinding out at-bats," said first baseman Casey Kotchman, "and trying to make the most of the opportunities we get."
Acta said he constantly stays on his players about having quality at-bats, but he was quick to point out that all quality at-bats don't always look the same. It doesn't have to end in a walk or a hit to be productive. Mostly, it's about making the opposing pitcher work, like the Indians made Angels starter Ervin Santana work on Wednesday. Cleveland forced Santana to throw a lot of pitches in the first inning, and chased him after only 1 1/3 frames.
"Santana made mistakes, we took advantage of them," Acta said, "and whoever came in, if they couldn't throw the ball over the plate, we made 'em work.
"You just can't stop. You gotta keep preaching and teaching the whole time. It's a long season, and if you take a step back, the guys might take a step back. It's what we try to stress. It's not, 'Get a hit,' because we know it's not that easy. It's having the quality at-bats."