Nixon getting comfortable with D-backs
Team hoping veteran can fill void left by Clark's departure
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The deeper Arizona gets in its Spring Training camp, the better Trot Nixon looks in a D-backs uniform.
The veteran of 10 big league seasons with the Red Sox and a key contributor with last year's Indians -- hitting .455 (5-for-11) in the postseason with a homer and three RBIs -- Nixon is competing for a bench role with the D-backs, attempting to fill the shoes of Tony Clark, who signed with the Padres during the offseason.
"The more he's here, the more comfortable he is," said manager Bob Melvin after Nixon went 2-for-3 with a home run, a double and four RBIs against the Padres. "He's a lot more vocal now than he was when he first got here. He brings some credibility. He's a proven winner, he's been on a championship team, and that goes a long way. All these guys know who he is. He's a tough guy, he works hard, and he has an outstanding work ethic. The guy just wants to be out there for every inning of every game. It rubs off on our guys. They see the way he commits to his work. All those things rub off."
Nixon's work ethic came into play over the last couple of days, beginning with an appearance in a Minor League game Sunday morning so he could hone his skills at first base.
"I'm getting fairly comfortable over there [at first]," Nixon said. "I want Bob to feel comfortable about playing me over there."
He left the Minor League game to pinch-hit off the big league bench in an afternoon game with the White Sox, and somewhere in the midst of it all, he took the time to study video of his at-bats and make some adjustments at the plate after talking to Alan Zinter, an old friend and the new D-backs Missoula rookie-ball hitting coach.
"We just talked about a few things," Nixon said of Zinter. "I didn't have a good [pinch-hit] at-bat again yesterday. I had two good ones over there. I wasn't happy with the at-bat here. I went into the cage and worked on a few things and felt good. It's important to take it into batting practice and try to take it into the game."
When D-backs left-hander Shawn Estes tried to sneak a strike in on Nixon after falling behind 1-0, Nixon applied what he'd been working on and took Estes out of the park to right field, dropping a two-run homer into the trees behind the bullpen, where a gaggle of Yankees fans had been heckling the Red Sox alum.
"If you want to get me right, bring in some Yankee fans," Nixon joked after giving the hecklers a good glare as he rounded the bases.
But the real action had come between the Minor League game, the video session, the cage work and his batting practice -- putting his work ethic to work.
"In a lot of ways I was getting a little too big, a little too anxious against right-handers," Nixon explained. "Things were getting long. My back side was collapsing a lot. I wanted to get in that batter's box and use my hands. If you put a good swing on the ball, if I get my hands through the zone, you can hit it as hard as you want. That was the thing -- take a step back."
Melvin saw much the same thing in terms of Nixon getting his swing right, and he recognized the benefit of the left-handed Nixon getting a couple at bats against Estes, a southpaw.
"Sometimes when a left-hander is pulling out a little bit on a right-handed pitcher, a left-hander makes you stay closed," Melvin said. "The other day he started pulling out of there just a little bit early. That probably shut him down a little bit, and then today he hits the ball in the left-center-field gap [against right-hander Mike Gardner] after the home run. It probably did him some good to see the left-hander."
As his spring average elevated nearly 40 points Monday, Nixon looked more and more like the veteran player who could fill the void left by Clark's departure.
"Whether it's a pinch-hit or a start against when the matchup is good, we don't have too many left-handed hitters in our starting lineup either," Melvin pointed out. "Typically, most of your closers are right-handed. A lot of your setup guys, and then you have your situational lefty. That's an important role. We saw Tony take that role here, and he was big for us. [Those at-bats] end up a lot of times being as big an at-bat in the game as you're going to get."
Clark's presence in the Padres' lineup Monday may have spurred some of the thinking about his former role with Arizona. Clark went 1-for-3 with an RBI against his old team, and though Melvin was happy to see him, he wasn't above giving the former D-backs player a playful jab.
"I don't think he looks as good in blue," Melvin said of Clark's new uniform. "He considers himself to be a fashion plate, but I don't think the sand pants are doing him any good."
Conversely, the Sedona red Nixon is sporting these days suits him to a tee.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.