PITTSBURGH – TJ Friedl hooked a solo homer into the right-field seats in the fifth inning Friday, producing a swing that kept a hanging curveball from drifting to the wrong side of the foul pole, but that wasn’t the hardest part.
No, the most difficult thing for Friedl was trying to keep a straight face as he rounded the bases, and his family members had the loudest voices in the PNC Park crowd of 17,706.
Friedl grew up about 15 miles away from downtown Pittsburgh in Moon Township, so he always has a lot of family and friends when he plays games against the Pirates. Now here he was, a kid who dreamt of playing inside this stadium, rounding the bases for his second career homer.
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“This is my sixth or seventh time playing here,” Friedl said. “I heard them as soon as it hit the bat and as I was running the bases. Running the bases was kind of a surreal feeling for me. It was hard to keep a smile off my face. For them to be here in person to see that was awesome.”
Friedl, who is cousins with basketball coaches John Calipari, Sean Miller and Archie Miller, pointed at his family members when he crossed home plate.
“The only cheers when the opposing team hits a home run is my family in the stands,” Friedl said. “It was awesome. I really can’t explain it.”
Friedl is known more for his speed and defense compared to his power, but including his time at Triple-A Louisville, it was his third homer in his last 13 games.
That’s not a coincidence.
After he was demoted to Triple-A in June, he tinkered a little with his swing. He looks like he’s standing taller in his stance, which naturally unlocks a little more power. Between his stints in the Majors, he hit .315 at Triple-A with a .385 on-base percentage.
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“I changed some mechanical parts of my swing, opened up a little bit to allow myself to see the ball a little bit better,” Friedl said. “Create more time and consistency off the pitcher. I did that the last time I got optioned to Triple-A, so I’ve been doing that for about two months in Triple-A. Just come up here and do the same thing. I’m trying to do anything I can to help the team win and make an impact.”
Friedl has bounced between Triple-A and the Majors seven times this year, so he’s trying to make the most of his opportunities.
There are new restrictions on how often teams can option a player to the minor leagues. After the rosters returned to 26 players on May 1, teams could send a player down to the minor leagues a maximum of five times before exposing him to waivers. Friedl has been optioned three times since May 1.
“I think he’s in the mindset of doing whatever he can to contribute,” Reds Manager David Bell said. “For a guy that hasn’t played a ton at this level, he has the perfect approach to it. He’s going to be ready for anything that comes up.”
The key for Friedl to earn more playing time in the big leagues is becoming a more consistent hitter. He entered Saturday with four hits in nine at-bats since he was called up with his homer.
“It’s nice to see results like that,” Friedl said. “It’s good to see at-bat to at-bat. The big thing for me is pitch to pitch adjustment. That’s one thing I’ve kind of started doing with this new stance and this new feel is being able to recognize adjustments I have to make pitch to pitch, which has been working well.”