WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Carlos Correa would take more than 200 swings and lift weights every day during spring training in years past.
After a season when he missed six weeks with a back injury that lingered for the rest of the year, he has altered his preparations. Houston’s shortstop has vastly cut back on everything from swings to how many sprints he runs in hopes that taking it a bit easier in February and March will lead to better health in September and October.
“I overworked during spring training and it showed up midseason with all the other workload,” Correa said. “Obviously my back getting hurt, it came from all that work. It was way too much. This year I’ve laid off a little bit of some of the things I did last year and I’m trying to work smarter.”
That means limiting his swings to no more than 30 at a time and about 85 in a day and cutting his weightlifting to three times a week.
“I’m still working hard, it’s just not like I did back then,” he said. “It’s just being smart about it.”
He also is more cognizant of taking care of his back away from baseball, too, and thinks that will help him avoid similar problems in the future.
“That’s one thing I learned from last year is to be conscious of the workload and everything that I do on and off the field,” he said. “When I’m lying at home on the couch I try to sit right and get a good posture. Nobody needs to tell me now. I know.”
Correa hit .268 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs the first half of last season. But he never got over a pinched nerve in a disk in his back in the second half and batted just .180 with two home runs and 16 RBIs.
His struggles led to ending the 2018 season with the lowest batting average of his four-year career (.239) and his fewest hits (96), doubles (20), homers (15) and RBIs (65).
Manager AJ Hinch believes the down year will provide a bit of extra motivation for the always-driven Correa.
“I don’t think many people are doubting him, but he’s going to want to prove the doubters wrong,” Hinch said. “He’s a huge part of this franchise and guys like to prove it.”
Correa hadn’t experienced much adversity in the majors before last season after winning rookie of the year in 2012 and developing into one of Houston’s top players in the two seasons after that. But he did recall a time he didn’t play to his standards and the haters came after him in full force.
“When I got picked first in the draft and I went to rookie ball I was obviously tired after that whole process and I didn’t perform as well,” he said. “And people were like, ‘Oh he’s going to be a bust, blah, blah, blah.’ And I ended up making it to the league in a couple of years and the rest is history.”
The 24-year-old, who was an All-Star in 2017, has never lacked in confidence. And that hasn’t changed simply because of one subpar year. He is determined to out-do his 2017 season, when he set career marks by hitting .315 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs.
“It’s just a bounce-back year of Carlos being Carlos,” he said. “Do what I’ve always done. I want to be able to continue the good defense that I played last year, and put up monster numbers at the plate, better numbers than I put up in 2017.”
Correa has looked good so far in Grapefruit League play, with four hits in five games after collecting two more on Sunday against the Nationals. Hinch said along with being healthy, Correa has learned to be more selective about the advice he takes concerning his game.
“He’s got a complete understanding of the game and what he needs to do to be good,” Hinch said. “But he will tinker. He would listen to anybody that offers advice and I think his filter has gotten a little bit better as he’s gotten older or more mature to what’s really important to help him.”
Injuries slowed the Astros in a loss to the Red Sox in the ALCS last season, preventing them from returning to the World Series. Now that Correa and 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve have put their injuries behind them, Correa is excited to see what this team can do in 2019.
“I feel like we have the best team in the league hands down,” he said. “We’ve just got to be able to go through the whole season and be healthy.”
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