Healthy and motivated, Max Muncy is out to prove he’s not a baseball fan

The chip on Max Muncy’s shoulder that drove Max Muncy’s first year with the Dodgers — set in the month he spent out of baseball after being fired by Oakland in 2017 — has yet to be reprogrammed.

Proving he belongs in the big leagues is no longer the primary driver for Muncy, who has established himself as a perennial All-Star, hitting at least 35 homers with an .889 on-base percentage or more in each of his first starts. three full seasons.

What motivates Muncy this spring is a burning desire to show that he is not what many felt last season, when a slow recovery from left elbow surgery caused his swing to malfunction and his production to decline.

“You feel like you get forgotten a little bit,” said Muncy, who had a career-worst .196 average, .713 OPS, 21 homers and 69 RBIs in 2022. “You’ve had a bad year, and suddenly nobody thinks about you. You’re already a good player. So this year I feel like I have a lot to prove, and that’s how I like it. That’s how my whole career has been.”

The Dodgers are confident that Muncy, with a regular workout regimen and a trip to Driveline, will return to pre-surgery form, which should help them lose Trea Turner and Justin Turner in free agency. , and Gavin Lux due to a knee injury.

It’s not so much Muncy’s solid numbers — he entered with a .250 average (nine-for-36), .803 OPS, one home run, three doubles and six RBIs in 15 games — as his appearance in 15 games. the box

“This is as good as I’ve seen Max, body and mind, since he’s been here, and I think a lot of that is because he’s healthy,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s freer and easier. He is able to get that extension, to continue to be much better in baseball than last year. With that elbow, he wasn’t able to do that.”

Muncy’s struggles in 2022 were rooted in the torn elbow ligament he suffered in the final game of the 2021 regular season. Playing first base and trying to throw a line to catch Will Smith, Muncy couldn’t get his left arm back before Milwaukee. Jace Peterson, hit a dribbler in front of the plate, crossed.

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 redo the swing last year, and now we’re redoing it to make it easier again.”

– Max Muncy on his offseason changes to his swing

Muncy rolled to the ground in pain and walked off the field clutching his non-throwing arm. He was kicked out of relegation and underwent surgery. He returned after the lockout ended last March, but couldn’t find a comfortable swing.

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

He was placed on the injured list in late May and sent down to the minor leagues for a brief rehab stint. That didn’t help. Muncy returned to the Dodgers on June 9. As of July 27, he was hitting .158 with a .612 OPS, nine homers and 31 RBI.

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

Muncy was in the batting cage before a July 28 game in Colorado when he and the Dodgers hit out at former Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, a 2021 St. who changed it to Louis when they remembered the unorthodox timing used.

Muncy said that taking a half-step back with his left foot when the pitch was delivered helped his body “not work so up and 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 field in his first at-bat of the night. He followed that up with three hard-hit home runs and a strikeout.

“I only had one drive, but I was hitting a lot of low line drives, all the time and I was on top of the ball,” Muncy said. “That was a turning point. I found something that could work, that I could keep.’

“He is an international player. He is not blind to the people, in his mind, he writes for 2023. He works better when he has a chip on his shoulder.’

– Dave Roberts, Dodgers manager, on Max Muncy

Muncy hit a more acceptable .245 (50 204) with an .842 OPS, 12 homers, 13 doubles and 38 RBIs over his final 57 games, but once the season ended, he hit the delete key in those final two months. Although he had success with the step back, he knew it wasn’t sustainable.

“I had to forget everything I did, because I didn’t want to do that anymore,” Muncy said. “Even though it worked for me last year, I know it won’t be the best solution for me. Last year I had to renovate the swing, and now we are renovating it to make it easier again.’

Muncy has not seen a repeat of the first base collision that cost him the 2021 postseason and marred 2022. “It’s too painful,” she said.

But he has left the injury behind. The move to third base, a position where he made 80 starts last season and has gotten more comfortable this spring, has helped. It also has the feel of being in the batting box.

“Swing and bat path, I’m 100 percent,” Muncy said this week. “I’m still working on the timing, but I feel like I’m where I want to be. You don’t want to be 100% blocked in the spring. You want to save that for the season, don’t you?”

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

“I see him coming back to what he was as a baseball player,” Roberts said. “He is an international player. He is not blind to the people, in his mind, he writes for 2023. He works better when he has a chip on his shoulder. I think he feels he is the forgotten man. So that’s a good thing for the Dodgers.”

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