Power surge: Hard work pays dividends for Diamondbacks' Hillenbrand

Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2003

PHOENIX A move to Arizona has turned Shea Hillenbrand from a line-drive hitter into a slugger.

Hillenbrand became the sixth player to homer in three consecutive innings, going 5-for-5 with a career-high seven RBIs Monday night in the Diamondbacks' 14-6 win over Colorado, the opener of a three-game series.

After peppering balls off the Green Monster in Boston for doubles the past 2 1/2 years, Hillenbrand homered five times in 63 at-bats since Arizona acquired him on May 29.

Hillenbrand came to Arizona determined to generate more power than he showed in Boston, where he homered three times in 49 games.

''I've been playing in Boston and trying to do their program and their plan,'' he said. ''It finally got to the point where I got here with a lot of veteran hitters, a lot of seasoned players who know how to play the game right. They've been a great resource to me.''

Hillenbrand's transformation mirrors that of Luis Gonzalez, who averaged more than 35 homers a year in Arizona after never hitting more than 23 before Detroit dealt him.

Hillenbrand was brought to Arizona to give protection to Gonzalez.

But Hillenbrand showed he's a hitter to be feared as well. Hillenbrand said it's too early for comparisons to Gonzalez, a four-time All-Star who hit 57 homers in 2001 while leading the Diamondbacks to a World Series title.

''I'm not an impact player like that who is very capable and has shown he's a franchise player,'' Hillenbrand said. ''I'm just part of the mix.''

Hillenbrand had a chance to make it four homers in four innings when he came up in the seventh, but his final at-bat produced a two-run double that gave him a franchise-record 15 total bases.

''I was thinking, 'Just enjoy it,' because it's probably the only time that will ever happen,''' Hillenbrand said.

Hillenbrand was traded for pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim to add a right-handed bat to Arizona's predominantly left-handed lineup.

But first, he had to recover from a strained oblique muscle, which sidelined him from June 9-28.

Upon his return, Hillenbrand listened to first baseman Mark Grace's advice about opening up his stance and worked with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy.

''His timing was a little bit off,'' manager Bob Brenly said. ''He was jumping at the ball a little bit, and he spent a lot of time in the cage with Murph working on his balance in the batter's box, waiting for the ball to get into the hitting zone.

''He's got such a quick swing as it is, and all it took was a couple of sessions in the cage.''

Hillenbrand broke up Odalis Perez's no-hitter with an eighth-inning single Saturday and went 3-for-4 the next day, scoring one of Arizona's runs in a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers.

Then Monday, Hillenbrand had the best game of his career to start a seven-game homestand.

He almost single-handedly rallied Arizona from a 5-0 deficit, leading off the fourth inning with a homer that barely got over left fielder Jay Payton. Another leadoff homer in the fifth closed the gap to 6-4, and Hillenbrand's 370-foot, three-run blast in the sixth sent Arizona to an 8-6 lead.

''That was an awesome display,'' Arizona's Quinton McCracken said. ''I can't recall a guy having such a marvelous day like that. It was good to be a part of that.''

Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs was the most recent to homer in three straight innings.

He did it in the third, fourth and fifth innings at Colorado last Aug. 10.

Carl Reynolds of the 1930 Chicago White Sox is the only AL player to homer in three straight innings. George Kelly of the New York Giants (1923), Montreal's Larry Parrish (1978) and Colorado's Andres Galarraga (1995) also did it.

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