By Andre Toran
Northwestern second baseman Alex Erro walked around the batting cage into the batter’s box, swiping rubber pellets into the air as he dug his cleats into the turfed surface at Rocky and Berenice Miller park, and prepared to swing.
Line drive up the middle. Line drive up the middle. Then again, line drive up the middle. One final cut, and Erro drove deep fly ball off the left-field wall.
Swing after swing, Erro squared up balls, jumping off the bat of his compact right-handed swing, whizzing passed the mesh net that shielded Northwestern assistant coach Dusty Napoleon from Erro’s assault.
That was Erro’s second round of batting practice Tuesday before Northwestern’s matchup against UIC, a bite-size sample of what opposing pitchers have had to face over the past month, now that Erro has put early season troubles behind him.
“I think I’ve been the same hitter all year,” Erro said referencing his initial struggles, which have all but dissipated at this point. “The balls are falling more now and I’m getting see a little bit better results. Not much change, just sticking to what I know.”
Erro started the 2019 campaign slow but has hit a groove at the plate in April. He’s hitting .431 in the month alone and .327 overall. But what’s most impressive about Erro’s smoldering hot stretch are the minor adjustments he has been able to make in the wake of struggles earlier in the year.
After going 2-for-8 in a mid-March series with Kent State, Erro, who batted .250 for the month, said he was at his lowest and began to look for answers.
He decided to call up his dad for advice, and asked, “Should I change anything up? What’s going on with my swing?”
His father reassured him that he is and was the same hitter he’s always been, a good one. This something that’s common sense to the ones around Erro. They know his ability to produce.
He knows his ability to produce.
After reflecting, Erro said he promised himself he would have quality at-bats every time he stepped in the box, and that there was plenty of time to make up ground. “I told myself, ‘They’re not going to get you out.’”
The Northwestern coaching staff is well-aware of Erro’s ability. They know more than anyone that the issue wasn’t the mechanics of his swing. Rather, it was his approach to how opponents had begun to adjust to him.
“He such a good hitter,” said Northwestern coach Spencer Allen. “Really, all you’re showing him is a thing or two approach-wise like, ‘Hey, here’s a pitch maybe we want to attack.’ Or, ‘Here’s a time where maybe you want to be a little more aggressive, or a little more patient. But he just knows his swing too well. He came in that way.”
All it took was a little reminding and minor at-bat to at-bat adjustments for Erro to return to form – understanding tendencies of opposing pitchers, recognizing the count and adjusting his approach from there.
“In the last month, I’ve seeing how pitchers are going to attack me and that’s with a lot of off-speed and a lot of pitches away.” Erro said. “So, I’ve been gearing my approach around that and being more patient at the plate.”
In Northwestern’s 6-1 win over UIC Tuesday, Erro’s approach was no different. He went 1-for-4, with all of his at-bats reminiscent of his pre-game batting practice — making solid contact with every ball, even those recorded for outs and focused on driving the ball middle.
In his first at-bat, Erro worked the count to 2-0, sat on a fastball the next pitch and treated just like BP, driving the ball up the middle passed the out-stretched glove of the UIC shortstop.
The confidence is there, and the adjustments have been made. His approach in the box is as calm and poised, as if it was just batting practice.