RICHMOND, Va. – Considering the VCU Baseball team is hitting better than .300 combined, it’s not hard to go through the lineup and pick out a guy swinging a hot bat.
VCU entered the weekend eighth nationally in average (.311) and 10th in runs scored per game (7.2). At the heart of that lineup of heavy-hitters, both literally and figuratively, is junior shortstop Vimael Machin. On a team full of pleasant surprises, Machin has been perhaps the biggest. Through 38 games, the 5-foot-11 native of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico is hitting .325 and is tied for the Atlantic 10 lead – with teammate Bill Cullen – with 42 RBIs.
Machin’s always been a good hitter for the Rams. He entered the year with a .282 average and has been a starter since his freshman year. But he’s ascended to another level this season. He’s on pace to set career highs in practically every offensive statistical category.
It would have been difficult to anticipate this type of success from Machin this season. On May 5 last year, in a game at The Diamond against Saint Louis, Machin was attempting to leg out a base hit when he rolled his left ankle at first base. The injury looked gruesome at first glance. Machin’s ankle was bleeding, and some, including the VCU shortstop, feared a compound fracture.
“It was pretty scary. When it happened, I thought I was done in baseball, to be honest,” Machin recalls of the moments immediately following the injury, as he lay on the infield dirt.
Although X-rays were negative – doctors classified the injury as a severe high ankle sprain – Machin missed the final nine games of the season. VCU was 6-3 in Machin’s absence, but the Rams dropped two of three in a critical series with George Washington and missed the Atlantic 10 Tournament by a single game.
“It was tough [sitting out], because I thought after that the team was different,” he said.
Machin did not play summer ball as he rehabbed the ankle. He rejoined full workouts in time for the fall season. Since returning, he’s been better than ever at the plate. Machin has walked more than he’s struck out (25/15) and been hit by pitch 12 times. His on base and slugging percentages are career bests, and he leads the Rams with three homeruns.
While Machin says he’s back to “100 percent” physically, and he’s made some slight changes to his batting stance, the VCU shortstop believes his breakout season is the result of an improved mental approach.
Machin says as a freshman, he didn’t have much of a plan at the plate. He was just up there to swing. Now, he’s thinking his way through at-bats. It’s been an area of focus for the entire team, according to Rams’ Coach Shawn Stiffler.
“He’s much more disciplined at the plate now,” Stiffler says. “He trusts his swing so much more now. The difference between Vimael now and Vimael as a freshman is he never takes days off now. That’s why he never got really hot as a freshman.”
Stiffler says the everyday demands of playing shortstop and hitting in the middle of the lineup would occasionally wear Machin down mentally as an underclassman, but that hasn’t been the case in 2014. Stiffler also believes Machin’s strong mental approach is rubbing off on his teammates.
“He is a much better leader now. I think that’s been the biggest difference in him,” he says. “He has been so accountable for the way he prepares himself and also the way the other guys have prepared themselves. I’m a firm believer in, if you stop worrying about your results and you’re making sure the guy beside you is better, you’re going to play better, and he’s done that this year.”
To hear him talk, it sounds as if Machin, who was drafted in the 29th round by the San Diego Padres out of high school in 2011, is taking the deferential attitude towards individual results seriously.
“I have to give credit to the whole team,” he says. “They’ve been there helping me the whole time. I’ve got to give credit to the top of the lineup. They get on base and give me confidence to get that base hit.”