PHOENIX – The 2021 season hasn’t gone nearly the way Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed would have wanted. In the middle of spring training, Ahmed suffered from stiffness and inflammation in his right knee, which eventually landed him on the injured list to start the season.
Ahmed missed his team’s first eight games of the season and hasn’t been his usual self since returning. In his first 41 at-bats, Ahmed has only three hits. In the field, the usually sure-handed Ahmed has a career-worst .946 fielding percentage.
Slow starts are nothing new for Ahmed. Just last season, Ahmed had only two hits in his first 10 games before going on a tear that saw him put up an .825 OPS in his final 47 games of the season.
Ahmed says that his knee has been affecting his play even after he was taken off the injured list, which he admits may have come a bit too soon.
“I’ve unfortunately had some bad starts in my career, last year being one of them as well,” Ahmed said. “It affected me to the point of not being able to really practice and work much through all of spring training. Reflecting back on the last couple months, I’ve developed compensations that I couldn’t necessarily feel.”
One of those compensations that Ahmed has made in the batter’s box has been the tendency to creep back in the box as the pitch is being delivered. Ahmed has always had active feet when he’s in the box, which he says is part of a mechanism of his swing to get his lower half engaged.
However, this season Ahmed admits his feet have been more active than he’d like, leading to him unknowingly inching backward in the batter’s box.
It’s one way Ahmed says his knee has been affecting him on the field, not because of discomfort, but unconscious adjustments he’s made to compensate for his knee not being 100%.
“To say that in the box, it was affecting my ability to compete right in the moment, that would be a no,” Ahmed said. “I wasn’t thinking about it or feeling it but it definitely affected my swing and my mechanics.”
Ahmed admits he still has a long way to go before everything connects at the plate.
“I haven’t taken one swing where it felt like that was a good swing,” Ahmed said. “(It’s) super frustrating because I’ve been grinding on video in the cage and trying to get it figured out and locked in. I haven’t been able to even have one thing click and it was like banging your head against the wall.”
Unknowingly making minor adjustments has resulted in a lot of weak contact. In 43 plate appearances so far this season, Ahmed has hit a ground ball 43.3% of the time. Even worse, he’s popped up 26.7% of the time, well above his career average of 6.8%.
Ahmed admits his knee has been a cause for the increase in weak contact.
“Because my lower half has been so bad, everything has been very rotational,” Ahmed said. “That causes either pop-ups, most of the time to the right side, which I’ve done more times than I can count, and pull-side ground balls.”
It wasn’t until very recently that Ahmed felt 100% on his knee. Now he says he has the ability to work and get the practice he lacked in spring training and the early part of the season.
“Up until basically the second day in Cincinnati, I still had to be very careful and monitor the amount of work I was doing swinging, running, and taking ground balls,” Ahmed said. “I’m still going to do that obviously, being smart over the course of a long season. But I feel like now I have more freedom to where if I need to take 20 extra swings one day to lock something in, I can do that now.”