Admit it, when Edwin Encarnacion homered in his first game as a Cleveland Indian – a no-doubt-about-it shot to complete a late-inning comeback against the Texas Rangers – you were beyond giddy.
This was the marquee player Cleveland’s front office broke the bank for, the first big-name signing the team has made in quite some time. Many saw the acquisition of Encarnacion being a move which made the Indians a favorite to get back to the World Series.
And here he was on Opening Day, hitting a clutch home run and legitimizing the contract Cleveland threw his way.
I hope the memory of said game has stuck with you, because there hasn’t been much to add to it since. The aforementioned home run is Encarnacion’s lone RBI. He’s only logged three hits since Opening Day.
It’s important to get one thing out of the way before I go further – I’m in no way about to claim this signing was a bust. We’re barely into the season, so it’s far too early to make such a claim. Add in the fact Encarnacion is a notoriously slow starter, and you can see why there’s no reason to panic about his lack of production just yet.
That said, there’s no denying his first couple weeks with the Tribe have been a struggle. The reason, it seems, is how badly Encarnacion has been pressing at the plate.
Watching his at-bats across the past few games, you can just see Cleveland’s new addition is trying too hard. It seems as though Encarnacion is attempting to live up to all three years of his new contract in the first couple series of the season. Every time he comes up with runners on, he swings as though he’s trying to be a clutch hero.
You don’t have to look much further than the Indians’ current series with the Chicago White Sox to see proof of this.
In Tuesday’s opener, Encarnacion twice came to the plate with the bases loaded. Each time, it looked like it would be the moment Cleveland’s new slugger endeared himself with the hometown fans, pulling through with a crucial hit to break open a 1-1 tie. Instead, each at-bat ended with an inning ending double play.
The frustration didn’t end on Tuesday, as Encarnacion was again presented with an opportunity to help his team last night. Down 2-1 with the tying run at third, all the Indians needed him to do was put the ball in play. After hitting a bloop past the infield which landed just foul, Encarnacion flailed at a 2-2 pitch for his second strikeout of the night.
In each of the aforementioned at-bats, the frustration on his face was visible from a mile away. It was apparent Encarnacion knew what could’ve happened had he come through, and how upsetting it was that he didn’t.
It’s completely understandable for him to feel compelled to live up to his contract as early as possible. He’s seen as the final piece to the puzzle in Cleveland, the big bat the team has been missing for years.
At the same time, the hits everyone expects Encarnacion to bring won’t start coming until he loosens up at the plate. Right now he’s just wound too tightly, an approach which has resulted in a .172 batting average and 12 strikeouts.
Obviously none of us should even remotely consider the idea of Encarnacion being a bad pickup. You can’t. Not eight games into the year.
Still, he likely won’t begin living up to his deal until he stops trying so hard to do so. As soon as Encarnacion can ease up at the plate and no longer feel as though he has to come through in the clutch, he should start looking like the player Cleveland expected him to be.