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Refined swing has Langerhans at head of pack

Refined swing has Langerhans at head of pack

Refined swing has Langerhans at head of pack
PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Ryan Langerhans re-signed with the Mariners as a non-roster invitee in December, he became part of a large group competing for one spot as the fourth outfielder on Eric Wedge's new club.

But with fewer than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, Langerhans has begun emerging from the pack with an excellent camp as numerous challengers have fallen by the wayside.

Versatile veteran Jody Gerut retired early and young prospects Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero and Johermyn Chavez have been sent down to the Minor Leagues. But Langerhans -- armed with a new batting stroke that seems to be paying off -- is hitting .367 and unleashed his first home run of the spring Thursday off the Royals' Jeff Francis.

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He now has a home run, a triple and three doubles in 25 at-bats, tied with Milton Bradley for the most extra-base hits on the club.

2010 Spring Training - null
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Langerhans split time between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma since being acquired from the Nationals in a trade for Mike Morse in 2009, and he wouldn't have been blamed for seeking a fresh start elsewhere after playing just 98 games with 208 Major League at-bats in two seasons.

Yet Langerhans looked at the Mariners and saw enough of a chance to re-up again. And that decision might pay off with another shot at the 25-man roster if he keeps forcing his way into the picture.

"I felt like these guys had given me an opportunity, and I felt like, potentially, it would be another opportunity for me," Langerhans said. "It's a decision I'm glad I made. I'm excited about the passion and fire that Wedge and the coaching staff bring. It's exciting and something I want to be a part of."

As usual, there is no given for Langerhans, who made the Opening Day roster last year but was optioned to Tacoma four days later. The club is already facing tough decisions with a number of other non-roster players fighting for spots. Space on the 40-man roster will likely need to be cleared for infielder Adam Kennedy, catcher Josh Bard or Chris Gimenez and several bullpen candidates.

Langerhans might not make the cut if Seattle keeps both Bradley and Michael Saunders, since Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki are locks in center and right field. But Bradley has been outhitting Saunders from the start of camp and it's possible the Mariners will choose initially to send the youngster to Tacoma to work on his swing, rather than have him ride the bench as a backup outfielder.

Or, Seattle could go with five outfielders. Either way, the Mariners would like to have someone who can play all three outfield positions to provide depth, and the left-handed hitting Langerhans fills that bill -- as well as being the kind of tough, team-oriented type that Wedge loves.

Langerhans says he's "pleased with my camp" and a reworked swing that is paying dividends, but learned several years ago not to spend time and energy looking at roster possibilities.

"I struggled real bad in 2007 when I was worried about a lot of the peripheral things, instead of just taking care of my own stuff," he said. "Ever since then, it's something I've adopted. I just want to work on my swing or my throwing or my defense every day.

"It's kind of cliche, but it's really true. They're the ones making the decisions. I can try to influence them in the way I play, but I can't stress about whatever decision they decide to make."

Instead, Langerhans is focused largely on the slight leg kick he began incorporating into his swing last season and a new hand position closer to his body as he awaits pitches. Both are designed to shorten his swing, let him relax and see the ball better. And he's thrilled at the payoff thus far.

"It's just Spring Training, and I've got to work on it and carry it into the season, but it feels really, really good right now," Langerhans said. "In hindsight, it's like, 'Why is this something I didn't find when I was 25? Why did I wait until I'm 30?'"

But Langerhans has been working at his craft for years, picking the minds of teammates and coaches to find his own strengths. Offseason hitting partner Ryan Ludwick noticed his excess hand movement and suggested that adjustment. Former Braves teammate Chipper Jones told him to imagine his back leg is a steel rod that needs to be kept anchored.

His father, a former Minor League player and one of the top prep coaches in Texas, has worked with him extensively. And, of course, there is a Mariners teammate that has an interesting left-handed swing of his own.

"I've talked to Ichiro [Suzuki] about what he does," Langerhans said. "He tries to keep his chest closed as long as he can. I try to draw on tips from guys who've been a lot more successful than I have. Just trying to tweak stuff, I feel like I've found something that's pretty comfortable."

Langerhans talks to Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss about his reworked swing on a daily basis, refining and reinforcing. Nothing reinforces better, of course, than positive results at the plate. And so far this spring, those have been coming on a regular basis.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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