Joliet Slammers: Abel Nieves sees need for better approach
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media July 24, 2012 9:16PM
The Slammers' Abel Nieves. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 26, 2012 6:13AM
Abel Nieves has seen a lot over a career that began in Venezuela and peaked with a Triple-A stop in Salt Lake City.
He has seen seven years in the Anaheim Angels organization. He has seen this year’s Joliet Slammers, 25-34 through Monday in defense of the Frontier League title they won as an expansion squad in 2011.
And he sees the difference.
“I don’t want to say I’m tougher than any of the guys on the team,” Nieves said. “What I think is some guys don’t come ready to play. Straight up, they don’t come ready to play.
“Nobody in professional baseball is able to show up at the field and just play. Nobody has a switch. You’ve got to get ready before the game. You’ve got to think ‘How are they going to pitch to you? How are you going to make plays?’ Every situation. Baseball is about thinking ahead.”
Nieves’ words come with the heft of a league-leading .374 average, and a team-leading six home runs and 35 RBI. They come as a respected, and well-liked, member of manager Bart Zeller’s roster.
Zeller has played the versatile 26-year-old, one of three Slammers named to the West Division All-Star team earlier this month, at every position except pitcher, catcher and center field.
“Abel (pronounced A-bell) Nieves is the kind of a guy who puts on his spikes and gives 100 percent every inning, every at-bat, never quits,” Zeller said.
A native of Maracay, Venezuela, Nieves is one of a handful of players on the Slammers with Triple-A experience. He knows what it means to take the good with the bad during a difficult season and move on after a tough defeat or a series loss.
“Right now we can’t think we’ve got to win the whole thing,” he said after the Slammers lost four of six to Gateway and Windy City during last week’s homestand. “Right now we’ve got to think ‘win series, win two out of three.’
“You’ve got to get over it quick. Don’t think about ‘Oh, we lost that series.’ We’ve got to be ready every day.”
Monday, the Slammers authored one of their most impressive wins of the season, topping Traverse City 5-3 in 10 innings. Traverse City (38-21), which has the best record in the league, had a 15-game home winning streak snapped.
Nieves is, of course, looking for more wins like that — along with as many outside fastballs as he can get.
“I’m an opposite-way hitter,” the right-handed batter said. “I always look for a fastball that I can drive the other way. Once they throw me off-speed, I just stay with my hands inside.”
With just a little more than a month left in the regular season, Nieves said the mechanics of a player’s swing shouldn’t be an issue. Helping a teammate in the batting cage now isn’t necessarily going to make a difference at the plate.
“Hitting at this point of the season is more mental,” Nieves said. “Honestly, I think the whole team has good mechanics. It’s just a matter of focus and get your pitch, the pitch you can handle. Whenever you get it, don’t miss it.”
The Slammers have missed too often this year. The .266 team batting average 15 games into the season had dropped to .248 a month into the schedule, where it remained last weekend.
Windy City pitchers didn’t want much to do with Nieves last week. After he hit a ninth-inning home run Thursday to ruin Mike Recchia’s shutout bid, Nieves drew five walks in his final nine plate appearances of the series.
His batting average consistently has been at .350 or higher in 2012. That figure could be enough to catch the attention of major league scouts and get Nieves another chance in affiliated baseball after he took the 2011 season off in this country.
“I hear stuff, but I don’t really pay attention to it,” he said. “I just come every day, play hard. If I’m doing good, somebody’s got to be looking. That’s my thinking every day.”