SAN FRANCISCO -- As shortstop Jean Segura struggles through his second full season in the Major Leagues, the Brewers are mulling sending him home with an offseason homework assignment. Some in the organization believe that a fundamental change to his hitting mechanics could help restore the offensive production that sent Segura to the 2013 All-Star Game.
"Most guys don't hit the way he does," manager Ron Roenicke explained earlier this month. "He's spread out. He's balanced 50-50, which most hitters are not; they always have a little weight back. They always gather and go back; he doesn't. He's got real quick hands and he tries to hit that way."
Segura, who taught himself to hit in the Dominican Republic and characterized this season as his first prolonged slump, has always swung that way.
Here is Segura in the 2012 Futures Game, a few weeks before the Brewers acquired him from the Angels:
And this May against the Mets:
In both instances, his feet remain planted, unlike many hitters who lift their front leg as a balance and timing mechanism when they begin to swing. Instead of generating power with his lower body, Segura's comes from his hands.
"There's some things, mechanically," Roenicke said, "that I think we can do with him to make him more consistent."
Some of those things have already been shared with Segura, who will carry a .237/.277/.320 slash line into Friday's important series opener against the Giants at AT&T Park.
That marks a serious production drop from the beginning of Segura's tenure with the Brewers. Acquired in the Zack Greinke trade before the 2012 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Segura won the Dominican Winter League batting title that offseason before he was installed as Milwaukee's Opening Day shortstop for 2013. He hit .325/.363/.487, alternatively legging out infield singles and driving pitches to the opposite field for extra bases, and he won a surprise spot on the National League All-Star team.
But in 697 plate appearances since then -- the second half of 2013 and '14 so far -- Segura has a slash line of .238/.274/.318, with the third-lowest OPS (.592) of 201 qualifying Major League players in that span. In 300 additional plate appearances, Segura has only four more extra-base hits then he collected during the first half of last season. His success rate on stolen bases has also plummeted, from 27-for-32 during the first half of '13 to 33-for-50 since, which could be connected to Segura's confidence.
The Brewers believe Segura is best served waiting until the offseason to make more significant adjustments, though it has yet to be determined whether he will play winter ball. Last year, Milwaukee blocked Segura from participating, believing he needed an offseason of rest.
At the same time, former Brewers infielder Juan Francisco was working in the Dominican Winter League on a similar change related to his timing, at the suggestion of Milwaukee hitting coach Johnny Narron.
"When we decide that, it's also communicating with the hitter," Narron said. "They're faced with going out there every day and competing, and while they're competing, we don't want them on the infield or the outfield or at the plate to be thinking about stuff. You can't do it. You have to go out there and perform. It has to be muscle memory, something you're comfortable with and confident with."
Comfort has been fleeting for Segura of late, on and off the field. Brewers officials are sensitive to the fact that he was confronted with personal tragedy just before the All-Star break, when Segura's infant son passed away suddenly in the Dominican Republic. Segura rejoined the team on July 18 and told Roenicke and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin that he wanted to play regularly.
Segura's OPS is actually up since the All-Star break, with a .281 batting average on balls in play that suggests some bad luck. He has also played a high-level shortstop, with a handful of exceptions, including one costly error and nearly another in Tuesday's loss to the Padres. On Wednesday, Elian Herrera drew a start in Segura's place.
If Segura plays consistent defense, Roenicke has argued, it helps offset his inconsistent offense.
"I talked to him, and he knows he has some good at-bats, but he just can't figure out why he can't consistently do that," Roenicke said. "He'll have a good one, and then the next one will be just like he's lost. Then later, he'll maybe have a good at-bat again. That's what's been frustrating with him, the inconsistency.
"We've seen the flashes of where he is, and whether it's him not having the confidence to do what he did at the beginning of last year, whether it's the pitchers making adjustments to him; infielders, I know, have made adjustments, they're playing him shallower because he beats out so many infield hits. It's probably a combination of everything. Lately, we know the off-the-field issues are tough for him. There's a lot going on."
Segura acknowledged as much.
"I think it's mental," he said. "I've seen my videos. I don't think anything is 'backward' or wrong. I think it's just swinging at strikes; swinging at pitches I'm supposed to swing at. I've been hitting the ball hard, but they never fall."
That said, he is open to change if Brewers coaches believe it's best. Segura has already been studying the mechanics of other hitters, from teammate Aramis Ramirez to 2012 NL MVP Award winner Buster Posey and perennial American League MVP Award candidates Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, to see how they load up for swings.
"When you're struggling, you need to find something that works for you," Segura said. "I'm trying to do it a little bit, trying in the cage, trying in [batting practice]. In the games, you can't take too much in your mind. But if I do it enough in BP, it may come natural in the game."
Then Segura directs the conversation more broadly.
"It's tough, inside, outside," Segura said, referencing off-the-field matters. "I've got too much going on in my head. I'm trying to get away from those negative things, try to do the best I can to help the team win ballgames.
"If I'm here, it's because they need me. This is a business. If they didn't need me, they'd kick me out of here. I'm just trying to do the best I can."