ST. PETERSBURG– It’s been a whirlwind two months for Ryan LaMarre.
Wednesday’s game-winning hit against Cleveland in Puerto Rico was the latest in an odyssey that started in late-February, when LaMarre began his unlikely quest to make the Twins’ opening day roster.
After signing with the Twins as a minor league free agent, the assumption from most was LaMarre would spend the season at Triple-A Rochester. Going into spring training, Zack Granite was seen as the most likely outfielder to make the team in a bench role, with Jake Cave and Chris Heisey joining LaMarre as long-shot candidates.
LaMarre, though, got a hit in his first spring training plate appearance and never looked back. For over a month, he put together quality spring training at-bats, his playing time increasing as other candidates were released or sent to the minor leagues. By the time Minnesota left Fort Myers, LaMarre had a .475/.500/.775 batting line.
As the Twins left the field following a one-game exhibition against the Nationals, LaMarre still didn’t know if he’d made the team, but received the good news just before the Twins’ bus headed north on I-75 for the opener in Baltimore.
“It’s been crazy,” LaMarre said of the past two months. “I feel like I have a suitcase that for the most part just stays packed and stays ready.”
LaMarre knows his spot on the roster is tenuous. Already he’s been sent down—playing a single game for Triple-A Rochester–, been added to the roster as the Twins’ twenty-sixth man for the Puerto Rico series, and been put back on the 25-man roster when Byron Buxton hit the DL.
“You take it one day a time,” he said. “You can’t really plan too much in advance, so it’s just kind of soak everything in and do whatever I can to help the team win that day.”
As he did in spring training, LaMarre’s play through the season’s first three weeks has earned him his spot on the roster, including a start in the Twins’ home opening win against Seattle. In 12 at-bats, he has 7 hits, good for a .583 batting average. Like his 40 spring training at bats, his regular season at-bats constitute a tiny sample size. For a player trying to earn his place on the team, though, that success surely carries more weight than it would for a veteran player on a guaranteed contract.
After going 2-for-37 in the big leagues going into this season, LaMarre said he made some mechanical changes this offseason to try to shorten his swing.
“I just really tried to simplify everything, tried to make sure when my eyes saw a strike that I could swing right then, not have a lot of length behind me,” he said.
Included in those changes is a unique pre-swing ritual in which he takes a half-swing with his elbows tucked in, as if trying to swing a bat in a narrow hallway. LaMarre said he thought he was taking a normal swing until manager Paul Molitor brought it to his attention in spring training.
“One day Mollie was kind of making fun of me by my locker and I realized I was doing it,” he said. “I don’t really know why I do it, to be honest with you.”
After an eight-week stretch that’s seen him go from spring training afterthought to walk-off hero, that unconventional approach is surely here to stay.