In becoming a mainstay in the Quad-Cities River Bandits lineup, Rodrigo Ayarza seemingly has all of his bases covered.
He’s played second, third and shortstop for the River Bandits and the switch-hitting infielder has turned a slow start to the season into ancient history.
“We gave him an opportunity and he ran with it,’’ Quad-Cities manager Russ Steinhorn said. “He started the year in the ninth spot in our batting order. He’s hitting in the three hole now and he’s helping our team in so many ways.’’
Ayarza has hit .381 over his last five games, raising his season batting average to .341 through 25 games in the Midwest League.
“Everything feels good right now on both sides. I am just trying to hit a big barrel on the ball and get good contact,’’ the 22-year-old native of Changuinola, Panama said. “It is working the way it is supposed to work.’’
It took some time for Ayarza to get to that point.
The first week of the season was pretty uneventful.
He went 0-for-7 at the plate in two games, pinch ran in a third and watched four more from the bench before reaching base on a bunt single in an April 24 game against Kane County.
Ayarza followed that 1-for-4 game by homering twice the next day against the Cougars, matching his season total from 2016.
He belted a third home run the next night in a game at Burlington and has never looked back.
“I am trying to do my best and show them that I can do the job they ask me to do,’’ Ayarza said.
At 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, the smallest player on the River Bandits roster is standing tall against the competition.
Ayarza is third on the team with 31 hits, shares the team lead with eight doubles, is second on the team with 19 RBI and is second among this season’s Quad-Cities players with five homers.
His power numbers have come from both sides of the plate.
That part of Ayarza’s game has caught Steinhorn a bit by surprise.
“I thought he would be stronger from the left side, but he’s been every bit as good hitting from the right side of the plate,’’ Ayarza said. “That’s been impressive. He swings a good bat.’’
Ayarza leads the team with a .423 batting average with runners in scoring position, numbers that rise to a team-leading .538 with two outs.
“He plays the game with a bit of a chip on his shoulder,’’ Steinhorn said. “I think he is trying to prove that he can be an everyday player and he certainly has become that.’’
The versatility Ayarza brings to the lineup is part of that.
He grew up playing second base, learning the game from his father and from an older brother, Max, who played in the Astros organization from 2009-11 and currently plays in Canada.
“I grew up playing baseball. I feel comfortable at second. I have played there for a long time,’’ Ayarza said. “I have played at the other positions for a couple of years now. I am working there and getting better. They are all different, but I am learning and doing a better job with it.’’
Steinhorn sees that as well, welcoming the value that versatile defensive players can provide any team.
“It’s huge to have a player that you can put out there at two or three positions and the fact that he is a switch hitter only helps him,’’ Steinhorn said.
“We can put him in the lineup at second, short or third and we know he’s going to do a good job with it. You could throw him in there in the outfield and I’m sure he could handle it.’’
Ayarza is willing.
“Wherever I am needed,’’ he said. “I will play wherever they need me to be and I will do my best. It is good to play as many positions as possible and be willing to learn.’’
Advice can come from all sorts of directions.
Ayarza has hit .381 so far in May, turning in consistent performances at the plate for Quad-Cities, and he credits a tip from his mother for making a difference lately.
Watching River Bandits games online in Panama, she advised him a couple of weeks ago to let up a bit on the velocity of his swing.
“She said I was swinging too hard, trying to hit home runs, and that if I only tried to make good contact, my average would be better,’’ Ayarza said.
“She was right. I am doing that and I am getting good hits, making good contact. Now, I want to keep it going, do my best and keep getting hits to help us win games.’’