Buffs' Shepherd tearing it up lately

by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER  - Batting third in the Madras' lineup, junior Cody Shepherd has been churning out some quality at bats. He is also killing the ball and has driven in 15 runs so far this JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Madras shortstop Cody Shepherd leads the team in extra base hits so far this season. He said it's all about how he approaches each individual at batCody Shepherd knows that baseball is a game of failure. But so far this season, the Madras junior hasn’t experienced very much of it.

No, he has been on the other side for the majority of the young season, ripping balls all over the field and ripping the hearts out of pitchers that face him.

But for the softspoken shortstop, it’s all in a day’s work.

“I was a lot more of a singles hitter, you know, short base hits,” Shepherd said. “But this year I’ve been poking it through the gaps a lot. I worked on my swing a lot during the offseason, on the tee, and it’s helped me.”

That may be the understatement of the season.

Through 12 games this year, Shepherd is hitting .389, has reeled off eight extra hits and knocked in 13 runs. Of his extra base hits, five have gone for doubles and two have found the other side of the fence, including one with the bases loaded.

His bat has been a big part of the Buffs’ offense this season. And it has been a pleasant surprise for those around him.

“I didn’t expect it at all; I’m really surprised at how well I’ve been hitting,” Shepherd said. “I’m just really happy.”

So is his coach.

“He’s a big, strong kid that has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do at the plate,” Sam McCormick said. “If you stick to an approach and look to your strengths, that’s where it all happens.”

McCormick said that Shepherd has had a lot of success numbers-wise but he has also been swinging at good pitches.

And that is the biggest key.

“He’s going up there looking for what he wants to hit and when he gets that fastball up a little bit in the zone, he hammers it, which is super cool to see,” McCormick said. “When you have an approach and everything’s working for you, and you have that extra power to go along with it, the ball will go a long way.”

There are a lot of different little things that have helped Shepherd get off to a hot start; among them are his size, his work ethic and his ability to pick up on pitches as they leave a pitcher's hand.

The size part is both him taking on additional workouts and some natural growth.

Shepherd said he committed to lifting weights more during the offseason. But he also grew, adding about 20 pounds on a tall, lean frame.

That combination has led to more power.

A singles hitter the past two seasons, Shepherd is now driving the ball into the gaps and sometimes over the heads of opponents.

But he is also seeing things a little differently than in the past.

“When I go up to the plate, it feels like everything is just slowing down,” Shepherd said. “I have this rhythm. I don’t see the ball getting bigger, but I do see it well coming off his hand. And I just read it.”

Shepherd said he has gotten much better at picking up on the spin of the ball as it leaves the pitcher, tipping him off to what kind of pitch is coming.

He is also adept at seeing arm angles.

His focus is on the timing and where the pitcher’s arm slot is. He looks to see where the ball is coming from when the pitcher releases it.

“I just really try to clear my mind when I go up there,” Shepherd said. “Just so it’s me and him.”

More than anything, Shepherd’s approach at the plate has led to his success. He is swinging at good pitches, gets ahead in the count and then looks to sit on a mistake and drive it.

So far, it has worked well.

“I usually try and sit on a fastball, but if I get deep into the count and I have two strikes, that’s when I look to hit off speed,” Shepherd said. “I’m most comfortable hitting a fastball, though.”

Alex McDonald, a teammate and pitcher, said teams are starting to adjust to Shepherd and throw him junk. But it’s not doing much good.

“I’d throw backyards to him,” McDonald said. “Every team is starting to recognize that, so there are throwing backyards to him but it’s not working much, he’s still hitting the ball.”

But it’s not just big hits. Shepherd has been moving runners over when the situations arises, basically piling up plenty of quality at bats.

McCormick tracks what he calls quality at bats and Shepherd leads the team in that category as well. Entering this week, his percentage of quality at bats is more than 80 percent, quite high for a high school power hitter.

Shepherd said he feels good about most of his bats, even some of the outs. If he hits a ball hard, but it ends up being caught, he still takes pride in a good at bat and tips his cap to the play made in the field.

It’s just how the game works, he said.

And he knows that in baseball, streaks don’t last. So he will enjoy this one for as long as he can.

“Of course I think about that, but I keep working hard,” Shepherd said. “I know it’s a game of failure and lots of things like this happen. I know my hot streak won’t last forever, but I’m going to constantly work hard so I can stay on a smooth path.”

With another year to grow and produce, winning now is the main focus, but a career in baseball lingers in the back of his mind.

“I love the game of baseball; it’s one of my greatest passions on this planet,” Shepherd said. “There’s nothing I would love to do more than play at the next level.”

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