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Curtis Granderson went into the 2006 season competing for a job. He’ll go into this season on the heels of a solid .260-19-68 campaign, firmly entrenched as Detroit’s center fielder and leadoff hitter. He’ll also go into 2007 trying to cut down on his strikeouts. One of the rising stars of a young Tigers team that surprised the baseball world by going to the World Series, Granderson had a American League-high 174 strikeouts in 596 at-bats.

David Laurila sat down with Granderson for BP to talk about the adjustments he’s making at the plate, his defensive game, and his opinion of inside-the-park home runs.

David Laurila: Cutting down on your strikeouts has been a main focus for you this spring. What adjustments are you making?

Curtis Granderson: I’m basically trying to mirror the stereotype of a compact, simple “load, stride, hit” swing. I’ve always been a little unconventional in my timing-mechanism and stance. One thing I’m changing is the positioning of my hands. From college to Double-A, they started out in front instead of in back of my head, so there was too much extra movement. Even last year, you might have seen three different swings from me over the course of the season. This spring I’ve been trying to refine my starting point so my swing is more compact and more consistent. That should help me make better contact.

DL: You were recently quoted as saying: “The simple approach is that if I stay aggressive, I’ll hit less with two strikes in the count.” Can you elaborate on that?

CG: It’s mostly a matter of not taking pitches I can do something with. When I was in (Double-A) Erie, our hitting coach, Pete Incaviglia, started a contest with us. Every time we took a strike on a fastball, we owed him a dollar. If we got a hit on a fastball, or a two-strike hit, he owed us a dollar. What he wanted was for us to be aggressive rather than waiting for a pitch we may not even get. That season I had more walks, less strikeouts, and a higher on-base percentage, so it was an approach that worked for me. Of course, you still need to make sure you swing at good pitches. You don’t want to expand the strike zone. There’s such a thing as “non-wise aggressiveness.”

DL: What’s your opinion of the idea that strikeouts aren’t important, that they’re no worse than any other out?

CG: To me, strikeouts are only an issue when there are runners in scoring position or you need to move someone over. I want to cut down on my strikeouts, but otherwise an out is an out.

DL: Do you care about your batting average on balls in play, or take any meaning from it?

CG: Yes and no. I know guys who hit .400 when they do, but only .230 overall. It’s more about trying to make consistent contact and how you hit the ball when you do. After that, it’s out of your control, so it’s not something I think about. Unless someone tells me, I don’t know what my average is when I put the ball in play.

DL: Which of your numbers do feel are the most important?

CG: Batting average with runners in scoring position is important. On base percentage is, too. That’s probably the biggest one, especially when I’m leading off.

DL: Hitters are always making adjustments. What might a pitcher do to force you to make one?

CG: If I’m facing a guy who has three pitches, and he’s consistently throwing me his changeup, I have to recognize that and adjust. And a pitcher will remember what he got you out on. I used to try to be locked in with my approach, but now I adjust more. You need to have a plan, but you also need to be able to adapt.

DL: You’ve had the words “Don’t think, have fun” written on the underside of your cap. What does that mean to you?

CG: My college coach, Mike Dee, used to tell me that, in his eyes, if I can trust and go with my instincts I’ll be fine. He said that if I’m too analytical, I’ll cause myself more harm than good. I have to admit that there were times that I’d get a hit and then ask if I did everything right. Sometimes I think too much, so that was a reminder to just go out there and play and have fun.

DL: Which would you rather hit: a long shot deep into the bleachers, or an inside-the-park home run?

CG: I’ll take the inside-the-park home run. It gets the crowd excited when you round second, and even more excited when you round third. Plus, you’re out there for a longer period of time, maybe 18 or 20 seconds. If you hit one over the fence, it’s only about eight or 10. It’s fun to be in the middle of the action.

DL: If could set any Major League record, what would it be?

CG: Man, that’s a tough one. I’d say…probably break Joe DiMaggio‘s 56-game hitting streak. And it wouldn’t be a record, but it would be cool to hit .400.

DL: If you could win any title, or award, this season, what would it be?

CG: Maybe the batting title? No, I’d rather win a Gold Glove. That would be more meaningful to me.

DL: How would you rate where you are as a defensive player right now?

CG: On a scale of one-to-10, as a major league outfielder, I’d say I’m a six. The reason being; arm-wise I need to get more consistent. I have decent arm-strength and accuracy, but not consistency in putting the two together. I’ll make several good throws in a row, but then won’t be in sync with the next one. It’s a mechanical thing. You go through streaks as a fielder, just like you do as a hitter, and I want to improve my consistency because I take pride in my defense. I’ve had the knock of not being a true center fielder, and that motivates me to get better.

DL: When you think of outfielders in Detroit Tigers history, who comes to mind?

CG: Having grown up in Chicago, my Tigers history isn’t that great, but Chet Lemon is a comparison I’ve been getting. He was a good defensive centerfielder, and a well-rounded player, so I’m taking that as a compliment. That’s the kind of player I’d like to be considered.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the author of Interviews from Red Sox Nation which was published in 2006 by Maple Street Press. He can be reached here.

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