Change serves Fineman, Hoosiers well

The change had been brewing for years.

Last summer, Ryan Fineman decided to go for it.

After Indiana’s season ended at the Lexington Regional of the NCAA Tournament in early June, the IU catcher went home to California to rehab his hand. With plenty of downtime and an otherwise clear schedule, Fineman started poring over film of big league batters and his own college teammates, trying to find a batting stance that worked.

During his first two years with the Hoosiers, Fineman wasn’t satisfied with his own results. He felt his production waned at the end of his freshman year, then bled into a disappointing sophomore campaign. So with a summer to himself, Fineman reinvented his approach for this season, leading to the power and consistency the junior had been searching for.

Fineman is batting .341 with a team-high 30 RBIs entering this weekend’s series against Illinois at Bart Kaufman Field, giving the Hoosiers another dimension to their balanced, potent lineup.

“My freshman year, I thought it was a little bit disappointing how I finished the year,” Fineman said. “I think I just lost my swing a little bit, lost my load. It carried over to my sophomore year. I had a really down year hitting-wise, which didn’t help our team. It would’ve been nice to have had a catcher that could hit for us.”

Although Fineman wasn’t a lost cause at the plate last spring, a 4-for-35 skid to end the season dropped his average from .270 to .239 across his final 12 games.

That was enough to send him home in search of an approach that worked.

It didn’t take him long to find it.

Through his own film review sessions, Fineman focused on Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger and his upright stance. Previously, Fineman bent his knees, taking on a subtle crouch in the right-handed batter’s box.

But he liked how Bellinger stood up straight and held his hands at his shoulders, creating the kind of consistent bat control that allowed him to drive through the strike zone with more consistent power.

“I would just watch games and be like, ‘Wow, his hands work well with that stance right there,'” Fineman said. “I would just incorporate it all. I would look in the mirror for hours a day and just kind of see what really worked for me.”

Fineman also added a more pronounced leg kick that, in tandem with his hand placement, has allowed him to drive the ball unlike he has before. After hitting five home runs combined spanning his first two seasons, Fineman already has a handful this season.

His batting average ranks third on the team and his eight doubles already matches his single-season high set two years ago.

“When he came back in the fall, he was our best hitter,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said.

Of course, the new batting stance fed much of that improvement. But for Fineman, change wasn’t limited to his approach at the plate.

The 6-foot, 215-pound catcher altered his diet and started a new training regimen that helped him lose 20 pounds, running to drop excess weight.

“I was out of shape last year and I can admit it,” Fineman said. “This year, I feel like I’m in good shape. You can always be in better shape, which I’m still working at, but right now I just feel like I’m better at catching, I’m better at hitting and I feel like I’m less tired. I’m just able to handle everything.”

His coach agrees.

“He’s a mature player,” Lemonis said. “He’s gonna be a coach at some point in his career and he’s gonna be a great coach because he really understands the game. But it was about getting his body into better position to hit. I think we all saw that when he came back. He put a lot of time and effort into it and he’s still putting a lot of time and effort into it.”