Late in Spring Training, the Padres gave their starting Catcher Nick Hundley a contract extension of $9 million over 3 years with a $5 million option for a fourth in 2015. The move to extend Hundley to the contract was a bold vote of confidence for a franchise that possessed such a strong corps of Catching prospects in the Minor Leagues, and did not usually commit such large sums of money to their players in general. Still, Hundley had been improving in each of his three full seasons in the big leagues, and seemed set to take the next step for the Padres.
Despite playing in only 76 games in 2010, and another 76 in 2011, the expectations were high for the 28-year old who had himself a career best season at the plate in 2011. Last season, Hundley put up career high numbers in At-Bats (281), Runs (34), Hits (81), Home Runs (9), Batting Average (.288), On Base Percentage (.347), and Slugging Percentage (.477), and it was thought that a season with a clean bill of health would help Hundley easily eclipse those numbers.
With that in mind, as San Diego kicked off the 2012 season Hundley was thought by many to be an integral part of San Diego’s Offensive attack if they were to succeed during this present season. Furthermore, Hundley was also expected to pick up some of the Offensive slack left by newly-acquired, but injured Left Fielder Carlos Quentin who went down with a knee injury late in the Spring. Thus, a perfect opportunity arose for Hundley to take advantage. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan to begin the 2012 campaign and Hundley stumbled out of the gate.
For the first two weeks of the regular season, Padres Catcher Nick Hundley could do nothing right at the plate. This is not to say that other Padres players were not struggling (and continuing to struggle) to hit on a consistent basis, it’s just Hundley was having the most issues. The worst part for Hundley, the Padres, and Padres fans watching was that he did not record a single hit in his first 7 games to start the season! After his 7th game, Hundley’s stat line read: .000 Batting Average, 1 RBI, and 5 Walks! I know, it shocked me a bit too, but Hundley went his first 7 games without a hit, and went 1 for his first 23 and was batting an anemic .043. It honestly would not have shocked me had Bud Black decided to play backup Catcher John Baker more. Yet to Hundley’s credit though, he finally got things rolling in his 8th game, and has continued to produce on a steady basis ever since.
During his last 7 games, Hundley has been on a bit of a hot-streak going 10 of his last 26 and logging a .385 Batting Average during said stretch. Included in his 10 hits have been 1 Double, 1 Triple, and 2 Home Runs, but the most important statistic of all is the 8 RBI’s he has driven in over that stretch. Hundley continued his stellar performance yesterday against the Phillies, and was responsible for driving in 4 Padres runs! More impressive was the fact that Hundley went 2 for 3 on the day, showed some nice pop pulling the ball on the Home Run he hit and going the other way on his Triple as well in the Padres’ victory.
Sure, Hundley might only be batting a paltry .213 right now. Yet when you consider that a week ago he was 1 for his first 23 and hitting .043, you have to appreciate how he did not get discouraged and began to produce. After upping his Batting Average by .170 in a week, Hundley has also upped his OBP and Slugging Percentages to the respectable levels of .321 and .404 as of today.
Hopefully Hundley can continue to swing a consistent bat, because San Diego will undoubtedly need as much production as they can get out of the anemic middle of their batting order. Hundley, as well as Yonder Alonso will need to establish themselves as quality run producers behind Chase Headley, and continue to do so even when Carlos Quentin returns from his knee injury. Plus, Hundley is and will be the #1 guy behind the dish, and figures to be integral in helping the Padres young Starting Pitchers develop over the next few seasons.
In my opinion, it has been satisfying to watch Hundley go out on the field as of late and swing a consistent bat after all of his early struggles to start the season. I personally cannot imagine what it would be like to begin a year batting .000 and then .043 while the rest of the team around me cannot hit as well. But kudos must go to Hundley and his hitting coaches Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell for righting the ship over the last week and turning out some more consistent performances at the plate. Now let’s hope some of the other guys on the team take Hundley’s lead and get out of their slumps!