Before the 2018 season, Corey Dickerson made a choice. He wanted to strike out less.

The year prior Dickerson hit 27 homers, raised his batting average 37 points, and earned the only all-star nod of his career. But the outfielder wasn’t satisfied with the strikeouts.

He sacrificed some power and average, but as intended, his punchouts plummeted from 152 to 80. Dickerson choked up more, implemented his two-strike approach regularly, and cut down the swing-and-miss in all counts. It’s an approach he carries with him to the Blue Jays — his fingers climbing the bat nob at any point in the at-bat to put barrel on the ball. But Dickerson has refined the strategy, picking his spots, and finding the middle-ground on his old-school approach.

“It’s just beautiful,” manager Charlie Montoyo said of Dickerson’s approach. “We gotta get back to that, baseball in general.”

Dickerson developed a two-strike approach in college, but his hands didn’t start drifting up the bat until 2017, his final year as a Tampa Bay Ray. The goal isn’t just to make contact, sometimes Dickerson will choke way up if he thinks the opposing pitcher is coming inside, or he’ll move down the handle if he’s expecting something slow. If there’s a man on third and all he needs is contact, Dickerson will climb the handle and smack the ball in play. Two strikes or none, it doesn’t matter, Dickerson is willing to choke up whenever he thinks it’s to his team's advantage.

“It's like the chess game that's going in your head during the bat,” Dickerson said.

Montoyo calls it a “professional at-bat,” but Dickerson admits it’s a tradeoff. When he halved his strikeouts in 2018, his homers halved too. At the end of the 2018 season, former Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and Dickerson sat down to discuss the year. The GM explained the team would rather Dickerson take the strikeouts with the power sometimes — with the state of modern pitching, slapping around four or five singles in a row just isn’t on the table anymore.

Teams value slugging, driving in runs, and homers, Dickerson said. Up two runs in the second inning, Dickerson choking up at the cost of power isn’t what's best for the team. It changed the outfielder’s perspective, Dickerson said. He still chokes up, but now he chooses his spots.

In late August, Dickerson dug in for an extra-inning at-bat against the Detroit Tigers while Vlad Guerrero Jr. bounced off second as Toronto's ghost runner. Dickerson flared two singles into the Comerica Park outfield during the first nine innings, and he just needed another — no extra-base hit required to cash the leading run.

So, Dickerson slid his hands up the bat-grip and swung at the first pitch he saw, a hanging off-speed delivery the outfielder hacked into left field. The bloop dropped in front of Akil Baddoo, registering Dickerson’s third hit of the game and scoring the eventual game-winning run.

In an era when the sacrifice ground-out and bloop single aren’t valued in an arbitration hearing, Dickerson is willing to forgo the big slash sometimes. Choking up is just who Dickerson is as a hitter, and he won’t stop anytime soon.

"I think the basis of it all is the fact that he's a competitor," Toronto hitting coach Guillermo Martínez said. "If it means winding down and choking up, he's willing to do whatever it takes."

This article first appeared on FanNation Inside The Blue Jays and was syndicated with permission.

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