Mike Trout‘s first plate appearance of 2014 ended in a similar fashion to that of his 1,490 prior — a home run.
Up against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in the bottom of the first inning, Trout took an 86 MPH slider over the left field wall in Angels Stadium to give his team an early 2-0 lead. It was probably the most fitting way the 22-year-old phenom could have kicked off his third big league season after signing a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension last week.
The pitch he clobbered with career home run No. 63 Monday night? A poorly placed 86 MPH slider in the lower and inner half of the strike zone — an area where Trout thrives against non-fastballs.
One look at Trout’s contact point tells us everything we need to know about how his home run came to fruition. Head down on the ball, hips fired open with a stiff front leg and bent back leg, Trout unleashes with tremendous bat speed on Hernandez’s hanging slider. Can’t ask for much more from a mechanical standpoint.
As we can see, Hernandez’s slider was not placed particularly well. Notice how Mike Zunino set up low-and-away against Trout prior to the offering in the video. This would ideally be the place to locate against him with this pitch, owning a career .411 slugging percentage on low-and-away ‘soft’ stuff. But baseball is a game of inches, and missing this pitch low and inside — where Trout has garnered a .647 slugging percentage to this point in his career — is a recipe for disaster, as King Felix discovered last night.