Charlotte Knights

Knights’ Tuiasosopo on fire since breaking slump

Over the past seven weeks, Charlotte Knights outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo (center) has gone from being one of the Knights’ weakest hitters to one of their strongest, with some newfound power.
Over the past seven weeks, Charlotte Knights outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo (center) has gone from being one of the Knights’ weakest hitters to one of their strongest, with some newfound power. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Just a couple months ago, Charlotte Knights outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo was going through one of the worst hitting slumps of his 11-year minor league career.

But over the past seven weeks, Tuiasosopo has gone from being one of the Knights’ weakest hitters to one of their strongest, with some newfound power.

Entering Thursday’s series opener against the Indianapolis Indians at BB&T BallPark, Tuiasosopo has belted 12 home runs since July 1, tops in the International League during that span, and his 31 RBIs are fourth-best in the league.

What’s changed? A little confidence, a little video study and a lot of work.

“That’s the big thing,” Tuiasosopo said. “When you go down a little valley, you start thinking about everything. But the video doesn’t lie – it’s going to tell you what the issue is.

“That’s why when I went through that rough patch, I thought ‘OK, let’s go back and look at the video, and dissect what’s going on here.’”

For the season, Tuiasosopo has hit a career high 16 home runs – his previous best was 14 with Triple-A Tacoma in 2011 – four behind teammate and IL co-leader Matt Davidson and tied for fourth in the league. He’s also second in the IL in slugging percentage (.478) and home runs/at-bats ratio (1-to-18.31).

“Through the course of a season, guys go through times like this,” Knights manager Joel Skinner said. “He came out of a slow period and got his groove back. When you start to have a little success, your confidence starts to grow.

“He’s always been a guy who gets pretty good pitches to hit, and right now he’s not missing too many of them.”

That wasn’t the case in June.

Tuiasosopo struggled at the plate, hitting just .183 – worst among Charlotte players with 20 or more game appearances, and 100 points below his average for the first two months of the season.

So Tuiasosopo went back to work, beginning with a lot of time watching video of his swing.

“I noticed I was starting ( my swing) late,” Tuiasosopo said. “Some people can get off mechanically, but the majority of the time it’s always a timing issue. I was starting really late, wasn’t really giving myself a chance to get my swing off. I wasn’t recognizing pitches, and not swinging at pitches that I would want to attack because I was starting so late.

“That was the biggest issue for me – just making sure I start when I need to start, so that my sequence can work itself out. I can get my swing off when I want to, on the pitch that I want to.”

So far, the work has paid off. Tuiasosopo hit .264 during in July, with nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 29 games, and despite missing nine straight games for the flu, he is hitting .250 in August, with three home runs and nine RBIs.

Those August home runs came in one game, against the Rochester Red Wings on Aug. 7 – a first for the 29-year-old Tuiasosopo, who has spent part of four seasons in the major leagues, the last in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.

“Matt’s done it all himself,” Charlotte hitting coach Andy Tomberlin said. “When he gets hot, he’s as good as any hitter in the league. Everything’s come together with his timing and his approach. That’s why it’s been so fun to watch.”

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