I was older than I would have liked to be when I finally got the point about all the muscles in your body being connected. It took some recurring lower back pain for the point to sink in, as it became readily evident that stretching everything above, below, behind, beside, and next-door-neighbors-to my lower back would begin to help alleviate the pain there.
Hamstrings, more than perhaps any other part of the body, are the muscles that help unlock the rest of the ones we have. They don’t just power their leg, they unlock the back, allowing for the kind of torque the body needs to produce any sort of athletic move, let alone swinging a big wooden bat at triple-digit speedballs. So, when Jonathan India became one of the many Cincinnati Reds bitten by the early-season hamstring bug, it was unfortunately little surprise to see him struggle for his best form after that hamstring once again got ‘healthy.’
You can swing a bat while recovering from a strained one, but you can’t swing a bat - not like you’re used to doing. While nothing else on the body hurts, a bum hammy restricts the kind of motion you’re used to all over, making finding one’s swing and timing damn hard to do until the hammy is back to full speed. He struggled with just having it feel well enough during his multiple flare-ups in April, and despite being shut down for over a month to get over that spell, his initial return once back in the lineup on June 14th was just about as rusty as one would expect.
In his first 23 games after returning ‘for good,’ he hit a miserable .170/.253/.267, his power not only sapped but so, too, his plate discipline. He walked just 3 times in those games against 25 strikeouts, indicative of a player who was searching for the swing he’d been able to count upon and simply being unable to find the balance needed for it to work.
Fortunately, however, the Cincinnati 2B got enough healthy reps in to rediscover it, thanks in part to the team’s patience with him during an already lost season for the entire club. That’s precisely what frustrating years like this are designed to do, though - allow the players you want to be a part of big things down the road to work through some issues with little on the line, and for India, that meant the opportunity to fix himself on a day to day basis.
Fix himself he has. After bottoming out at a .564 OPS after the game played on July 9th, India found another gear, and has returned to the precise combination of patience, power, and contact that led him to the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year award. The subsequent 42 games has seen him rake to the tune of .304/.385/.509 across 182 PA, numbers that echo his lift-off during last season once he was moved to the leadoff spot for good (.274/.382/.480 over 470 PA after June 5th). His .387 wOBA since July 10th ranks as the 16th best in all of baseball in that time among qualified hitters, just a few clicks behind Juan Soto (.391) and ahead of Jose Altuve (.384).
With the only guaranteed money on the Cincinnati books at the moment being the final-year contracts for Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas in 2023, it’s once again worth pointing out that the Reds are going to need to commit to someone, something to be the centerpiece of their franchise if they’re ever going to both a) win games again and b) convince fans to invest themselves emotionally in the well-being of the franchise. They need a cornerstone, at least if they’re to operate in a way at all familiar to the generations of fans who have supported them to this point. While India was struggling early on this year, it was worth wondering if the hamstring was just a subplot for a bit of a sophomore slump.
What we’ve seen from him since getting healthy again, however, is the same kind of player who took the city by storm last year en route to his RoY win. That’s the kind of player you lock up with a contract extension, something even the most frugal of baseball owners must recognize.
Welcome back, Jonathan. Let’s hope they find a way to keep you around like this for a long, long time.