McCool stays hot at the plate while bouncing around the infield

BY J.T. BUGOS | APRIL 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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Zach McCool may be known in the Iowa dugout as “Little Guy,” but the 5-7 infielder steps into the batter’s box armed with a big stick.

Against Michigan State on April 4, McCool collected a record-tying five hits in six at-bats while filling in the leadoff spot for the injured Kurtis Muller.

In Sunday’s game against Illinois, the utility infielder stroked two base-hits, including a double off the center-field fence that plated Kurt Lee for a Hawkeye insurance run.

“The biggest part about it was the infield came in, and I knew I had to put a good swing on it to put it out to the outfield or through that infield,” McCool said.

The adjustment came from his confidence, he said, which has resulted in a five-game hitting streak. He said he has to trust himself and keep working on his swing.

The native of Manchester, Iowa, also credited assistant coach Ryan Brownlee on tinkering with his approach.

“Earlier on, I was more open,” McCool said. “Then [Brownlee] told me to go straight into my two-strike approach. Ever since then, I’ve been seeing the ball really well and taking excellent swings.”

Iowa head coach Jack Dahm said he sees a vast improvement in McCool, which dates back to his swing last year. Dahm said the 20-year-old isn’t trying to do too much and has figured out exactly who “Zach McCool is as a hitter.”

“He used to hit a lot of fly balls, and now, he’s hitting a lot more line drives and ground balls,” Dahm said. “He has a lot better understanding of what type of hitter he needs to be and how he can be successful.

“I give a lot of credit to him because he’s worked extremely hard. He’s turned into a team leader, and he’s done everything we’ve asked from him.”

McCool’s strong presence is felt all over the diamond, too. The junior has played both second and third base this year and has left field and right field on his résumé as well.

Shortstop Kurt Lee, who has spent time at second base, admitted that bouncing around the field can mess with a player. But McCool said he embraces the opportunity to showcase his versatility.

“Wherever the coaches need me, I’m going to go,” McCool said. “I appreciate that the coaches trust me all around the infield, and even the outfield and designated hitter. It’s pretty special to have confidence and trust from your coaching staff to put you anywhere.”

Lee said the attitude needed to be successful as a utility player is the desire to get into the lineup and contribute to the team. He called McCool the poster boy of that.

“The more and more you switch positions, the more and more you get used to just being a defender, and not so much playing a specific position,” Lee said. “Zach does it as well as anybody else does.”

Dahm isn’t worried about “Little Guy” suffering setbacks at the plate because of his constant shuffle around the field.

The seven-year head coach said it’s not easy to move around a lot, but said McCool’s mental makeup allows him to be successful even in uncertainty.

“I just told him the other day he’s probably going to be our second baseman for a while, and then next thing you know, we decide to make a switch,” Dahm said. “I talked to him and said, ‘Hey, can you handle third base?’ and he said, ‘Yup coach, if I’m in the lineup, I don’t care where I’m at.’

“That’s a very unselfish approach, and that’s what I love about Zach this year. His attitude has been outstanding.”

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