Rios merits weekly award in September
Slugger is AL Player of the Week after tweaking his approach
It's no coincidence that the Blue Jays have hit their stride -- winners of eight straight heading into Monday's White Sox matchup -- at the same time Alex Rios has regained his.
Rios, Toronto's starting right fielder, has wielded a potent piece of wood in the past week, thanks to minor mechanical adjustments and an aggressive plate approach implemented by manager Cito Gaston, who took over the reins June 20.
Last week's results -- a .414 average (12-for-29) with three doubles, two triples, three home runs and eight RBIs -- earned Rios the Bank of America Presents the American League Player of the Week for the period ending Sept. 7.
"They let us play -- that's a good thing about the whole staff," Rios said. "It's, 'If you see a good pitch to hit, just swing at it. Why not?' That's a good approach for me. ... I'm being aggressive, but in the strike zone. I don't want to be wild all over the place."
The award marks the first such weekly honor for Rios, whose tattooing of AL pitching has helped catapult the Blue Jays into a heated race for the Wild Card.
Just ask divisional foe Tampa Bay, who was swept in a three-game weekend set in Toronto. In a 6-4 Jays win over the AL East leaders on Sept. 5, Rios went 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBIs.
The two-time AL All-Star's bat proved equally pesky in a three-game sweep over Minnesota, in which Rios went 8-for-15 with a home run and four RBIs. In a Jays win on Sept. 2, the slugger went 4-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs.
"I'm seeing the ball pretty good at the plate," Rios said following the pair of homers on Sept. 5. "I'm being a little more patient and swinging at balls that I want to swing at, instead of swinging at everything. I think that's one of the things that I've been doing good right now."
Rios has a career-high nine second-half homers and posted a .966 slugging percentage along with a .414 on-base percentage in Toronto's last seven games.
The outfielder attributes his power surge to Gaston's free-swinging approach and his own diligent work with hitting coach Gene Tenace, who has been focusing on keeping Rios from falling back on his back side.
"I've tried to work on that since I got here," Rios said. "It's getting a little better. I'm just going to try to keep doing that and see what happens."
So far, so good.
Rios had a league-leading eight extra-base hits last week, and enters Monday's contest with an eight-game hit streak. Although the outfielder has steadily increased his slugging percentage each month since May, Gaston says Rios' best is still to come.
"We'll see what happens with him next year," Gaston said. "I think this kid is going to get back to where he was before and be even better."
In recognition of his achievement as Player of the Week Tourneau will supply Rios with a suitably engraved luxury Swiss Tourneau timepiece.
Other nominees considered for the weekly award were Detroit Tigers teammates Curtis Granderson (.444 average, 10 runs, three doubles, one triple, two home runs, five RBIS) and Magglio Ordoñez (.481 average, .926 slugging, four doubles, one triple, two home runs, eight RBIs); Adrian Beltre (.520 average, .880 slugging, one double, one triple, two home runs, five RBIs) of the Seattle Mariners; and Cleveland Indians pitcher Cliff Lee (2-0, 0.55 ERA, 16 1/3 innings pitched, nine strikeouts, one shutout).
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.