Matt Hague didn’t necessarily set out to lead the International League in hitting.
He set out to be consistent, to not get caught up in the highs and lows that come in a 140-game season.
The little things add up.
On Thursday the equation equaled a spot on the International League All-Star team.
It’s the third time Hague will play in the annual Triple-A All-Star Game, which pits the best from the IL against the Pacific Coast League All-Stars. Joining him will be Bisons relief pitcher Gregory Infante.
Hague twice played in the All-Star Game while with Indianapolis (2011 and 2014). And an All-Star Game at any level is an honor that he doesn’t take lightly.
“I think every year a player goes into the season thinking they want to make the All-Star team, so for it to actually happen, it’s an honor and I’m always happy to make an All-Star team,” Hague said.
His numbers have been impressive in his first full season with the Herd. Hague collected two hits in Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Syracuse Chiefs at Coca-Cola Field.
Heading into Thursday’s game, the 29-year-old infielder led the IL with a .340 batting average – 18 points better than Pawtucket’s Jackie Bradley Jr. He leads the league in hits (98) and on-base percentage (.421) while ranking second in walks (40), RBIs (48) and third in doubles (20).
The longest Hague has gone hitless has been two games.
“He’s a real good hitter,” Bisons hitting coach Richie Hebner said. “He uses the whole field. A good two-strike hitter. The good thing about him is he never gets in a slump. He’ll go 0 for 6 and get three hits the next night. He’s been very consistent.”
His consistency comes from taking to heart the old adage that baseball is a mental game.
“I think not really getting on a roller-coaster ride has been key,” Hague said. “I think just because I go 0-fer one game, there’s no panic. I kind of told myself this year no panic. Just whatever you do, go out there with the routine you have every day and stick with it. See how your body feels. …
“You hear all the time baseball is a mental sport. I think more than anything hitting is a mindset. Once you start panicking you try to do too much, when you try to do too much you kind of get outside yourself. That’s when stuff, for me at least, starts spiraling. So staying even keel and really just going about my business each day and have fun doing it, too.”
The approach has worked for Hague and is one collectively the Bisons hitters could use. The team is in a feast-or-famine offensive mode, wasting too many great pitching performances in one-run losses. For Hague, battling off the pressure of close games comes down to remembering how much he loves the game.
“I think if you put too much pressure on yourself you’re going to not do what you want to do,” he said. “It’s taking a step back and getting perspective. We play a beautiful game for our jobs. It’s taking a step back and relaxing.”
Hague joined the Bisons last season after the Pittsburgh Pirates designated him for assignment and the Toronto Blue Jays claimed him off waivers in August. He played 13 games for the Herd last year, driving in 10 runs on 20 hits.
Hague came up through the Pirates organization, playing 33 major league games in parts of two seasons.
Infante has made a team-high 30 appearances out of the bullpen and is 1-1 with a 2.329 ERA and four saves. He made 11 consecutive scoreless appearances from May 8 to June 6, allowing just 11 hits and striking out 14 in the 17 inning-stretch.
The 28th Annual First National Bank Triple-A All-Star Game will be at 8 p.m. July 15 at Werner Park in Omaha, Neb. The game will be broadcast on MLB Network.