Durham Bulls

Field finds home at leadoff spot

Durham’s Johnny Field takes off towards first after a hit in a recent contest.
Durham’s Johnny Field takes off towards first after a hit in a recent contest. Durham Bulls

Not even a crooked batter’s box could slow down Johnny Field. When Durham hosted Norfolk on Saturday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the players noticed the box was a little off.

Most batters use home plate as a reference point to where they like to stand, their comfort spot. Early in the game it was brought to the attention of the umpires and the grounds crew had to come back out and redo the box. It was a simple mistake, but it threw off some of the batters in the first inning. Not Field, who stepped to the plate at the lead off position and blasted a double. After correcting the batter’s box, Field stepped back in and blasted two more doubles in the 7-3 Durham win.

Field, a native of Las Vegas, has found a home in the leadoff position. Bulls’ manager Jared Sandberg has moved Field up and down the order, but recently he asked Field where he felt the most comfortable and his answer was batting first, setting the tone and getting things started for the offense. More times than not, Field has responded, starting the game with a hit, or at least a walk, to get on base.

“I try to find spots for him in the leadoff spot,” Sandberg said. “There are other guys with priority ahead of him so he was hitting in the seventh or eighth spot at times, but now that Mallex (Smith) has gone up it’s given him the opportunity to hit leadoff where he’s comfortable, a spot where he can lead this team.”

Field has been spectacular at home for Durham this season, hitting 13 doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs through 19 games this month. Field missed some time early in the season with a thumb injury, but has found his groove again. Sandberg recalls seeing Field in a zone like this before, when he was playing the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League in 2014. That season Field had a .320 average with 92 hits, seven homers and 41 RBIs. Last season he split time between Double A Montgomery and Durham, playing 69 games with the Bulls. Field was solid, but he hadn’t settled in at a particular spot in the lineup. This year, when Sandberg finally asked, Field told the skipper he likes being the guy to go out first. He knows at that position he’ll see the kind of pitches he likes.

“I feel like leadoff, you get a lot of fastballs in that spot,” Field said. “I don’t like off speed as much as I like fast balls. I feel like I get up there, get on some heaters, drive the ball and score some runs. As lead off I take pride in that part of my game, trying to get on base and make things happen for the guys behind me to hit me in.”

Knowing that pitchers typically “groove it down the middle” for the first batter, Field knows he can be more aggressive and attack more. Saturday, he swung at the first pitch thrown his way. As Field put it, “you don’t have to wait around” at the leadoff position.

Getting a good hit early, Field explain, not only sets the tone for the rest of the offense, but it settles him in a bit.

“You go up and get a hit your first at-bat you can take a breath your next couple of at-bats,” Field said. “You go up there and makes outs that first hit, you’re kind of pressed the rest of the game. But you go up there and get a hit that first at-bat, you’re much more relaxed at the plate after that.”

That has proven to be true for Field, who has four multi-hit games this month and six in the last 10 games.

Sandberg said Field has the ability to “create havoc” when he gets it going at the plate.

“It’s about him just getting good pitches to hit,” the skipper added. “When he gets good pitches to hit, low ones he can handle, he’s able to do some damage: doubles, triples, homers.”

Field said he would like to have more consistency at the plate. He has been solid this month, overall, but had a two-game stretch at Charlotte this month when he went 0-for-8 at the plate. He’s gone through some good hitting streaks throughout his career, but he realizes with this spot, it’s all about maintaining.

“Right now, I mean it’s only been a couple of games, I’m going through a pretty good streak now,” Field said. “Baseball is all about riding out the good streaks as long as possible and minimizing the bad and staying even keel as possible.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV