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Healthy and motivated, Max Muncy wants to prove he’s not a baseball bum


The chip in his shoulder that fueled Max Muncy’s early years with the Dodgers, implanted during the month he spent out of baseball after Oakland released him in 2017, remains, though it has been reprogrammed.

Proving he belongs in the big leagues is no longer the main driver for Muncy, who established himself as a perennial All-Star by hitting at least 35 home runs with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .889 or higher during each of his first three complete seasons.

What’s motivating Muncy this spring is a burning desire to prove he’s not the drifter he suspects many felt he was last season, when his slow recovery from left elbow surgery caused his swing to malfunction and production. would plummet.

“You feel like you’re kind of forgotten about,” said Muncy, who had a career-worst .196 average, .713 OPS, 21 home runs and 69 RBIs in 2022. “You have a bad year and suddenly no one thinks you’re not anymore. You are a good player. So I feel like I have a lot to prove this year, and I like it that way. That’s how it’s been all my career.”

The Dodgers are confident that Muncy, after a healthy winter with a normal exercise regimen and a trip to Driveline to increase his bat speed, will return to pre-surgery form, which would help alleviate the loss of Trea Turner. and Justin Turner in free agency. , and Gavin Lux with a knee injury.

It’s not so much about Muncy’s strong numbers — he entered the final exhibition weekend with a .250 average (nine-for-36), an .803 OPS, one home run, three doubles and six RBIs in 15 games — it’s the way it looks on the box.

“This is the best I’ve seen Max, in body and mind, since he first came here, and I think a lot of that is because he’s healthy,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He is freer and easier. He can get that extension, stay in baseball much better than he did last year. With that elbow, he couldn’t do that.”

Muncy’s problems in 2022 stemmed from a torn ligament in his elbow suffered during the final game of the 2021 regular season. Playing first base and attempting to throw a pitch down the line of catcher Will Smith, Muncy was unable to retire. his left arm before Milwaukee. Jace Peterson, who hit a dribbler in front of the plate, went through it.

Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy throws to first during a spring game against the San Diego Padres on March 6.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

“I had to revamp my swing last year, and now we’re revamping it to make it simpler again.”

— Max Muncy, on the offseason changes he’s made to his swing

Muncy spun to the ground in pain and walked off the field clutching his non-throwing arm. He was eliminated from the playoffs and underwent surgery. He returned after he ended the lockout last March, but couldn’t find a comfortable swing.

Two months into the 2022 season, the lefty Muncy was a shadow of the slugger who hit in the middle of the order from 2018 to 2021, hitting .150 with a .591 OPS, three home runs and 14 RBIs in 41 games. .

He was placed on the disabled list in late May and sent to the minor leagues for a brief rehab assignment. That didn’t help. Muncy returned to the Dodgers on June 9. On July 27, he was hitting .158 with a .612 OPS, nine home runs, and 31 RBIs.

“The elbow was a big problem,” Muncy said. “He didn’t want to move the way I wanted him to move. I wasn’t cooperating. And even when he got healthy, he wouldn’t move (well) because of all the bad habits I created while trying to get healthy.”

Muncy was in the batting cage before a July 28 game in Colorado when he and the Dodgers’ hitting coaches recalled an unorthodox timing mechanism used by the former Rockies third baseman. Nolan Arenadowho was traded to St. Louis in 2021.

Taking a half-step back with his left foot as the pitch was delivered helped Muncy get his body into a position where he “wasn’t working as much uphill and as far down under the ball,” he said. “It was a radical way to do it, but I said, ‘Let’s try it.’ ”

Muncy singled to right-center in his first at-bat that night. He followed with three hard ground balls and a punch.

“I only had one hit, but I was hitting a lot of low lines, I was on time with everything and I was on top of the ball,” Muncy said. “That was a turning point. I found something that could work, that I could go on with.”

“He is an All-Star player. He is not blind to people, in his mind, writing it off for 2023. He works best when he has a chip on his shoulder.”

— Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Max Muncy

Muncy hit a more passable .245 (50-for-204) with an .842 OPS, 12 home runs, 13 doubles and 38 RBIs over his final 57 games, but once the season was over, he hit the delete key in those final two. months. Although he succeeded in stepping back, he knew that he was not sustainable.

“I needed to forget everything I did, because I didn’t want to do that in the future,” Muncy said. “Although it worked for me last year, I know it won’t be the best solution for me. I had to revamp my swing last year, and now we’re revamping it to make it simpler again.”

Muncy hasn’t seen a repeat of the first-base collision that cost him the 2021 postseason and marred 2022. “It’s too painful,” he said.

But he has left the injury behind. The move to third base, a position in which he made 80 starts last season and with which he has become more comfortable this spring, has helped. The sensation in the batting box has also done it.

“I’m 100% on the swing and the trajectory of the bat,” Muncy said earlier this week. “I’m still working on time, but I feel like I’m right where I want to be. You don’t want to be 100% cooped up during the spring. You want to save that for the season, right?

Between injury anxiety and the slow start and drastic swing adjustment midseason, Muncy never felt right in 2022. But a normal offseason, he said, allowed him to “mentally reset and reset my body,” which it leads the Dodgers to believe they will get the Max out of Muncy in 2023.

“I see him coming back to who he was as a baseball player,” Roberts said. “He is an All-Star player. He’s not blind to people, in his mind, writing him off for 2023. He works best when he has a chip on his shoulder. I think he feels like he’s the forgotten man. So that’s a good thing for the Dodgers.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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