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Why the Dodgers’ Max Muncy is feeling better about his swing


There have still been a lot of strikeouts, and an extreme rate of swing-and-miss.

Key at-bats that came up empty, and a couple familiar bouts of early-season adversity.

No, through three weeks of this new campaign, Max Muncy hasn’t rediscovered the peak potency of his prime years with the Dodgers, when he was a two-time All-Star and three-time MVP vote-getter.

But, for the first time since his 2021 elbow injury, and the two-year plunge in production that followed it, the 33-year-old slugger is starting to feel more like his old self at the plate again.

Completely healthy. In-tune with his mechanics. And, as manager Dave Roberts put it recently, “prioritizing being a good hitter” first — one capable of far more than the .204 batting average he posted the past two seasons.

“We’re gonna need that ability [from him] to conduct a good at-bat more times than not, than just hitting a homer,” Roberts said of Muncy, who had the second-most home runs (57), but also the most strikeouts (294) and lowest batting average, of any qualified Dodgers hitter in 2022 and 2023 combined.

“I think he totally understands that,” Roberts added. “When he’s in a good spot mechanically, physically, he’s been a pretty good player.”

Indeed, though he remains a feast-or-famine presence in the middle of the Dodgers lineup, Muncy has felt a better balance with his swing and approach to start this season.

It’s been reflected in his batting average — he was hitting .250 as of Thursday, after hovering around .300 for the first couple weeks — and early-season improvement against breaking pitches, which had been one of his fatal flaws in recent years.

He has also delivered in several high-leverage moments, none bigger than his game-winning home run against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 31.

The flaws in Muncy’s game haven’t been erased. He has 25 strikeouts in his first 52 at-bats, one of the highest whiff rates in the majors, and several early-season miscues defensively at third base.

But for a player stuck around the Mendoza line the past two years, the improvements he has made to this point have nonetheless come as a sigh of relief, and source of auspicious belief.

“I feel relaxed, and to me that’s the most important thing,” Muncy said the night of his game-winning blast against the Cardinals, which was his only home run until a solo shot Wednesday in Minnesota. “As long as I’m relaxed at the plate and I’m not pressing, not trying to do too much, I feel pretty good about myself.”

The biggest key behind that confident ease, Muncy explained in a recent dugout interview: How he has felt physically since the start of the offseason.

Though the infielder is more than 30 months removed from his gruesome elbow injury — when a collision at first base on the last day of the 2021 regular season left him with a torn ulnar collateral ligament — he said it wasn’t until he began his winter training regime in October, just two weeks after the Dodgers’ postseason elimination, that he finally felt freed of its lingering complications.

“You know exactly how you’re feeling when you’re starting your swing [program],” Muncy said. “For me, I could tell immediately.”

Where he once struggled to hit the ball the other way in batting cage drills, he did so naturally this winter, peppering the left side of the net without “having to manipulate it over there … like the last couple years.”

Where he had lacked comfort in his mechanics in recent seasons, he finally rediscovered an ability to swing “freely,” he added, a sensation that translated from dry swings to tee-work to full-speed pitches against a throwing machine.

“The first part was just getting healthy,” said Muncy, who also spent time on the injured list last year with a hamstring strain. “Once you’re healthy, it’s allowing your body to do what it does, and not trying to fight it … And it hadn’t been there for two years because of a couple tough injuries.”

Muncy did almost nothing but fight his body in 2022 and 2023, as he and Dodgers coaches recounted last week.

In the immediate aftermath of the elbow injury, hitting coach Aaron Bates said that Muncy fell “into some habits” with his swing path, turning an already pull-happy left-handed slugger into one who yanked too many hittable pitches foul of first base.

“He’d gotten probably more oriented to the pull side than he’d been,” Bates said. “Not consciously. It just kind of happens.”

As Muncy’s numbers started to dip, he struggled to find ways to adapt.

Swing moves that once felt comfortable suddenly seemed foreign, he said. Coupled with a level of “stubbornness” that slowed needed alterations to his mechanics and approach, he was prone to extended slumps that even his 36 home runs last season couldn’t fully negate.

“When I kept scuffling and scuffling and scuffling, I was like, ‘No, I can keep doing this approach. It’s what I’ve done my whole career,’” Muncy said. “Once I adapted, the numbers would start to jump back up.”

His stats never returned, however, to the levels he and the team were once accustomed to — a symptom, Roberts believed, of Muncy chasing power over contact.

“I think for Max, in particular, it’s a mindset,” Roberts said. “I’ve always believed that he has that hit tool in him. I just think at times, he does try to slug too much, for me … where that bleeds into being a better hitter.”

Added Bates: “He’s a great hitter. He’s got great bat-to-ball skills. So I think for him, coming back from that elbow injury in 2021, it was just about getting back to using the middle of the field … and increasing your margin for error.”

This year, Muncy is trying to hone those traits consistently again.

During the team’s opening homestand, he recorded RBI hits on several low breaking pitches — the type he used to foul off or swing through entirely.

“That’s how it should be, instead of pulling it foul because I’m trying to pull everything,” Muncy said. “That’s just the result of trying to stay disciplined in my approach.”

And for a Dodgers lineup that entered Wednesday a collective .212 batting average from the Nos. 5-9 spots in the order (which ranked 23rd in the majors), getting consistent production from Muncy, who hits fifth most nights, will be crucial to balancing out a seemingly top-heavy offense.

“If we can get him to do that,” Roberts said of Muncy’s importance in the depth of the order, “it’s going to be really, really difficult to navigate.”

That doesn’t mean it’s been a flawless opening act from the nine-year veteran.

Muncy only went three for 19 on this week’s trip, when he bemoaned that he wasn’t “seeing the ball real well” in some of his at-bats. He is also batting just .217 with runners in scoring position overall — a slight uptick from last year, but a mark both he and the team will want to see further strides.

Time will tell whether he can stage a legitimate rebound to his once-All-Star levels.

“This is a hard-ass game,” Muncy said. “There’s gonna be times you get it done and you’re gonna look awesome. And there’s gonna be other times you don’t get it done, and everyone is gonna hate you. That’s just the nature of baseball.”

Still, for now, the Dodgers remain encouraged by the strides Muncy is making — hopeful their longtime slugger can build upon his more consistent mechanics, continue to refine the clarity of his approach, and put the days when his batting average languished below his playing weight (which, in another sign of his improved physical form, is also down some 10 pounds from last year) behind him for good.

“With everything moving how it’s supposed to move,” an optimistic Muncy declared, “I can finally get back to the approach that made me the hitter that I was for all those years.”


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