Corey Hart has developed quite the Mr. Fix It reputation this year, whether he's helping someone down from Toronto get a tuneup to his swing or working with the many young players in the Bisons' clubhouse hoping to get to the big leagues.
Hart's handiwork is all over Blue Jays prospects big and small, but the Herd's second-year hitting coach had a good chuckle when that moniker was brought up to him after a recent game in Sahlen Field.
"I just do what I see. I don't really think of myself that way," said Hart, 43. "I want guys to be in the best chance to hit, to get good swings. They know how to get those or they wouldn't be up there or wouldn't even be here. It's just trying to do it every at-bat.
"How does their swing work and how does their body work? It doesn't have to be perfect. We try to keep their swing in the zone longer to where they don't have to be so perfect with their timing."
The Bisons entered Tuesday's game with a .263 team batting average, 142 home runs and an average of 4.9 runs per game. All of those figures are middle of the road in the International League but are the Bisons' highest since they were a New York Mets affiliate in 2010.
In April and May, the Herd batted just .248 and was 21-29. But the offense took off in June (.275) and has been reliable ever since. During the playoff push, the Bisons have scored at least five runs 16 times in the last 27 games and have at least three runs in 22 of the last 27.
After working with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. here last August, Hart helped him navigate April in Buffalo and be ready for the big leagues. He groomed Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette for their eagerly awaited callups to Toronto. Buffalo players like Andy Burns and Patrick Kivlehan have had career years this season, while several players came back from the Blue Jays needing remedial work and found it with Hart, in the video room and the batting cage.
The latest one was Rowdy Tellez, who had a paltry .606 OPS over a 35-game stretch in Toronto before getting shuffled back to Buffalo on July 13. He was here 28 days -- and batted .366 with seven homers, 21 RBIs and a 1.136 OPS over 26 games before returning to the Blue Jays.
"What happens in the big leagues is they find your hole and they keep going at it," said Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo. "And he couldn’t make an adjustment with that. It seemed like everybody was either high fastballs or sliders in on him. And he was swinging and missing. So, he had to make an adjustment."
"All I did was stand up straight," Tellez told reporters upon his return to Rogers Centre earlier this month. "That’s it."
Hart did side-by-side video with Tellez from last season and this year. They found Tellez was too hunched over now, and that prevented him from getting to certain pitches, especially some up in the strike zone.
"Didn’t change my feet, didn’t change where I stood in the box — literally nothing but stand up straight," Tellez said. "I think that just helps where my bat enters the zone, and keeps myself through the zone a little longer."
"Some of the guys I've had before, so I try to catch up and look to when they were doing well and had their good years," Hart said. "Everybody is different so you want to see how their bodies are working. You have to gauge the positions they need to get themselves into, and it's different from guy to guy, so you just can't throw a blanket over all of them."
It's the individual approach that players like the most. In his first season after a promotion from Class A Dunedin, Hart immediately endeared himself to Buffalo players last year. Blue Jays infielder Devon Travis was quickly impressed with Hart's communication skills.
"I think he's going to be a big-league hitting coach for a long time and a good one," Travis said after one game. "He does a very good job of understanding his players, knowing what we need and keeping things simple. That's the biggest thing when it comes to a hitting coach."
Burns, Buffalo's ace utility man, is batting .310 since the All-Star break and has a career-high 17 home runs. After playing the last two years in Korea, Burns was a new student of Hart and has been duly impressed.
"Corey has been great to work with. He's one of those guys that lets you stay the course," Burns said. "He trusts that if you do the work and the preparation, it will translate to the field and he doesn't panic. It's my first year with him and he's always got a good attitude coming to the ballpark. He keeps things simple and light, lets us go out and play. It's really all you can ask."
Hart, not to be confused with the former Milwaukee All-Star of the same name, was an eight-year minor leaguer with a .242 career average. He topped at out Triple-A with Omaha and Nashville in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
"Guys like us had to scuffle our whole careers," Hart said. "Some of those guys I played with just had it. They didn't have to find out how this guy did that. they just had it. We just had to grind every day trying to figure out how it works.
"I remember playing with Mark Ellis in A ball," said Hart, referring to the long-time big-league infielder. "His mentality was that the pitcher was never good enough and that was awesome for me. I remember we were in Wilmington and facing CC Sabathia, and he was just incredible as a kid. Our pitching coach asked what CC had working and Mark's like, 'He's terrible.' That's how he was and how I wanted to be — but I had to fake it sometimes."
Hart has let players like Bichette and Guerrero go mostly untouched. But when Teoscar Hernandez came back to Buffalo in May after batting .189 in the big leagues, Hart got his hands lowered and moved to a slight toe tap at the plate, and Hernandez responded by hitting safely in 13 of his final 16 games with Buffalo.
Tellez and Hernandez are again struggling some in Toronto. Perhaps they need some more Hart in the offseason and next spring.
"When I got down there it kind of was like, ‘OK, this is where I need to be,’ " Tellez said. "With them being able to point out what I was doing wrong and me being able to accept that, it was just something that small. After we had talked about how I was standing upright and kind of hunched over, I kind of looked and I was like, ‘I wouldn’t have even figured that out.’"