"The big thing for us was that he was able to hit left-handed," said Melvin of the switch-hitting Zaun. "At the time, our only left-handed hitter was Prince Fielder, so we felt that was important. He's always been selective at the plate, and I liked that, too. He has a good line-drive stroke."He has a lot of similarities to Jason, actually. Both guys have a very strong passion for the game and a passion to be recognized for their hard style of play. I've seen Zaun block the plate and take a shot, and Kendall was that way, too. Those are two tough guys." Most of Zaun's career at-bats -- 2,670 of 2,703 -- have come as a left-handed hitter, but he's impressed Melvin & Co. this spring with his swings from the right side of the plate. That could be important this year if the Brewers pick left-handed hitter George Kottaras as the backup catcher over right-handed hitter Matt Treanor. Manager Ken Macha says that competition is still open. Macha and Zaun have discussed a plan for playing time during the regular season. It's clear that Zaun will not catch as much as Kendall did over the past two seasons, but Macha would like the number to be over 100. "I think it would be nice if that would happen," Macha said. "But I've got to also be realistic with his age and what he's done in his recent past [in terms of] how many games he's caught." Zaun, who will turn 39 on April 14, started more than 100 games only twice in his career, in 2006 and '07 with Toronto. Last season, he signed with the Orioles to help bring along top prospect Matt Wieters, who eventually took over the starting catcher job in late May. Zaun knew the move was coming, and figures it was moved along by the fact he was hitting .209 at the time. The Orioles traded Zaun on Aug. 7 to Tampa Bay, where he continued working on his swing. "I've worked really hard the last couple of years on hitting," Zaun said. "Last year, I started off swinging the bat really poorly, and by about May I had to step back and figure some ways to keep the ball out of the air. I tried to find ways to shorten my swing." The answer was in his batting stance. "I used to hit from a pretty low stance and I relied on my legs to try and generate power," Zaun said. "I just gave up on it. I wasn't having consistent at-bats. I was going through way too many peaks and valleys. So I stood up taller and started getting a better look at different types of pitches." The result, he says, is that he found more steady success against a wider variety of pitchers, especially tall ones who throw over-handed. He can much more easily identify the spin of the baseball out of a pitcher's hand. That was Step 1. The second step came over the winter, when Zaun worked extensively at hitting off a tee to hone his hand position. He didn't take any swings against a pitcher until the start of Spring Training. "I was laughing because my first day taking batting practice off the coaches, I swung and missed," Zaun said. "First time in my career. But I'm sticking with my approach. I come in and hit off the tee all morning and then go out into batting practice, hit the ball up the middle and don't even look at where it's going. It's worked out so far."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.