MOOSIC — This season has been a roller coaster for Mike Ford.
It all started in December when the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders first baseman was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Rule 5 Draft. After failing to make the 25-man roster out of spring training, he was returned to the New York Yankees organization, and the RailRiders, with a slight chip on his shoulder. Ford wanted to carve a way onto the Yankees’ 40-man and then 25-man roster.
After a hot April — batting .253 with five doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI — and a slow May — a .187 batting average, six homers and 14 RBI — a June hamstring injury set the 26-year-old first baseman back. It wasn’t until a month ago that Ford started to find a groove at the plate.
He’s batting .331 with five home runs and 17 RBI since July 19 and has become a catalyst for the RailRiders over that stretch. If they’re going to make the playoffs, Ford could be the key.
“I just think it was kind of a slow start,” Ford said. “Conditions in the beginning weren’t as favorable for a hitter, and I actually had one of the better months in April, which is the weird thing. Then coming off the injury, I just kind of got back to what I’m used to doing and just being relaxed and being myself in the box. Just not trying to do too much.”
While the power numbers were there for Ford, there was a noticeable difference at the plate for the left-handed power hitter. He was striking out more.
Ford has always had a keen eye at the plate. As a pro, he’s never struck out more than 75 times in any one season. With a couple of weeks left in the season, Ford is already at 68 heading into Friday’s weekend series in Lehigh Valley.
However, if you take a closer look at the numbers, Ford uncharacteristically struck out 40 times in 48 games in April and May. In the 44 games since the start of June? Ford’s gotten back to his roots. The first base man has struck out just 25 times.
“He was swinging a lot. More than I’ve seen him, anyway, over the years,” said RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell, who also managed Ford in Double-A in 2016 and 2017. “I’ve seen him a number of times in Double-A and he was always, like, taking his walks, not swinging at bad pitches and then all of the sudden, like you said, at the beginning of the year I thought he was swinging at some high pitches that he doesn’t normally swing at, but he was also getting called out on some strikes that he didn’t think were strikes.”
When Ford returned from his injury in July, he was able to get back to the basics at the plate. The Princeton alum wasn’t expanding his strike zone late in counts and instead settled for a walk. Like he had in his past.
“Early in counts I’ve kind of changed my philosophy a little bit,” Ford said. “After big-league camp (with the Seattle Mariners), I kind of learned you might only get one good one at the beginning. But later in counts I was definitely expanding. Tried to get back to my roots, getting into a good count and if it’s not there just living with it and going to first (base).”
From Mitchell’s point of view, he believes Ford’s success correlates with his timing at the plate. That and the fact his confidence is back up after a string of impactful performances at the plate.
And if Ford can keep it up, he, outfielder Ryan McBroom and fellow first baseman Luke Voit, if and when he returns from his latest stint of with the New York Yankees, could power the RailRiders lineup the final week-plus of the regular season.
“He’s not getting beat on pitches like he was before,” Mitchell said. “I think he’s found a rhythm and it’s working, and confidence, obviously. You get confidence, you start to get a few hits in a row, which he’s done. He had a few doubles in a row and I think that helped. I think the fact that he’s hit the ball hard and he’s kind of got a feel for the timing of it has helped him a lot, and he’s not swinging at bad pitches, either. He’s been good a taking walks and everything and I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit.
“Look at Mike. He’s come alive big time in the last week or two, you know? We’re going to need (McBroom), along Voit, in the middle of the lineup. We’re going to need them a lot.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle