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Angels’ Zach Neto has adjusted the way he uses his leg kick during hot streak

Last season and at the start of this season, Neto always used his leg kick until he got to two strikes. After a slow start this season, he’s picked certain pitchers and situations to begin the at-bat without his leg kick.

The Angels’ Zach Neto began the season hitting .167 with a .449 OPS and no home runs in his first 79 plate appearances. Since then, though, he’s hit .289 with eight homers and an .853 OPS, and one of the changes that sparked that turnaround was Neto changing the way he uses his leg kick. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
The Angels’ Zach Neto began the season hitting .167 with a .449 OPS and no home runs in his first 79 plate appearances. Since then, though, he’s hit .289 with eight homers and an .853 OPS, and one of the changes that sparked that turnaround was Neto changing the way he uses his leg kick. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Associate mug of Jeff Fletcher, Angels reporter, sports.

Date shot: 09/26/2012 . Photo by KATE LUCAS /  ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
UPDATED:

SAN FRANCISCO — Zach Neto said one of his first conversations with new hitting coach Johnny Washington this spring was about picking his spots to change the way he uses his leg kick.

The Angels shortstop said he went along with the plan.

Until the season started.

“I kind of went away from it,” Neto said. “I was just doing what I wanted to do, and that didn’t work out for me.”

Neto began the season hitting .167 with a .449 OPS and no home runs in his first 79 plate appearances.

Since then, though, he’s hit .289 with eight homers and an .853 OPS. And one of the changes that sparked that turnaround was Neto changing the way he uses his leg kick.

Now, each time Neto goes to the plate, he and Washington determine if this is a spot to begin the at-bat with his two-strike approach. Last season and at the start of this season, Neto used the leg kick for pretty much every swing before there were two strikes.

Neto ditched the leg kick on a first-pitch swing again San Francisco Giants right-hander Randy Rodriguez on Friday night, and he hit a 415-foot two-run homer.

The times he’s most likely to scrap the leg kick are when he’s facing a pitcher who is particularly quick to the plate, perhaps by mixing in a slide step. Neto said he also could skip to his two-strike approach if there’s a runner at third and he wants to be sure to get the ball in play, or perhaps if he’s facing a pitcher with a tough out pitch that he doesn’t want to see at all with two strikes.

“I’m picking my pitches on when I should and shouldn’t use it,” Neto said. “Just learning.”

Washington said sometimes Neto even changes on the fly now.

“There are some at-bats where he’ll start off with the leg kick and he immediately changes due to the tempo of the pitcher,” Washington said. “The game situation, the game state also plays a factor in there as well. Also, what kind of stuff the pitcher may have, whether it’s a guy with carry or a guy with sink, different characteristics. The whole idea is what gives him the best chance to put the ball in play.”

Washington said the change in approach is a good sign for Neto’s ability to adapt as he works into his big league career.

“He’s learning who he is and what he’s capable of,” Washington said. “He’s starting to find some traction on what he possibly can do offensively and what that floor or ceiling may be for him offensively. It’s been fun to watch. I hope he continues to grow and learn each at-bat, each pitch, and continues to help us try to win games.”

PROGRESS FOR DRURY, SANÓ

Brandon Drury was set to play second base and Miguel Sanó to be the DH for Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday. Drury is rehabbing from a strained hamstring and Sanó from a sore left knee.

Washington said Drury’s rehab was slightly delayed because he wanted to DH a couple of extra days before moving into the field.

Washington wouldn’t commit to how quickly either player could be back in the Angels’ lineup, although they are obviously getting close.

“There’s no rush,” Washington said. “We want to get them back when they’re ready to be back and we don’t have to worry about them injuring themselves anymore. So we just got to wait and see how we get through it.”

Right-hander Chase Silseth is scheduled to start for Salt Lake on Sunday, which eliminates the chance of him returning to the majors this weekend. The Angels haven’t listed a starter yet for Sunday, but it’s likely to be left-hander José Suarez.

NOTES

A day after left-hander Reid Detmers gave up two runs in six innings in his second Triple-A start, Washington said he was encouraged. “He did a good job,” Washington said. “He landed some sliders and did some things that he wanted to do, but he’s still not there yet.” …

Taylor Ward, who had been bothered by back stiffness this week, was in the lineup at DH for the second straight game. Washington said he didn’t want Ward playing the outfield in the chilly San Francisco weather. He said Ward might be able to play in the day games on Saturday or Sunday, otherwise they would wait to get him back in the field until Monday when they return to Anaheim.

UP NEXT

Angels (LHP Patrick Sandoval, 2-8, 5.23 ERA) at Giants (RHP Keaton Winn, 3-7, 6.94 ERA), Saturday, 1:05 p.m., Bally Sports West, Bally Sports West, 830 AM

Originally Published:

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