The return of Matt Kemp’s swing
March, 1, 2014
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Mark McGwire joined the Dodgers as hitting coach more than a year after Matt Kemp nearly won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2011, and the swing McGwire saw last year was very different from the powerful and unusually high finish McGwire recalled from the past.
McGwire explains it this way: A right-handed hitter drives with his left arm -- his lead arm – and steers with his right. When Kemp was at his best, he had been able to lift and drive the ball to right-center field. But last year, Kemp still seemed to be recovering from the shoulder surgery he had in the fall of 2012, and McGwire never really saw that classic Kemp finish. Rather, his front arm was noticeably lower in his follow-through, and, instead of lifting the ball, he tended to hit looping liners without much carry, a lingering sign that his repaired shoulder was not yet operating at 100 percent.
On Friday morning, before the Dodgers’ exhibition against the White Sox, McGwire saw that old swing again.
It appeared on a nearly empty practice field behind the Dodgers’ facility here. Kemp hit the ball hard in regular batting practice, and then, when some pitchers arrived to throw live batting practice, including Brandon League, Kemp continued to wreck the ball, mashing drive after drive to right-center field. Blasts from the past.
As Kemp finished his session and began collecting his bats, John Valentin -- the Dodgers’ assistant hitting coach -- walked over to where McGwire stood with a reporter and lifted his eyebrows as if to communicate “wow.”
“That was great,” Valentin said.
“Best I’ve seen,” McGwire responded.
Kemp, carrying his equipment, strolled over, smiling broadly. “That,” McGwire said to Kemp, “was awesome.”
“I told you, I’m a beast,” Kemp said. He looked at the reporter and pointed a finger -- like a good-natured reminder -- and said, “Don’t forget that.”
His swing has reappeared, but, because of his troublesome left ankle, there is still the not-so-small matter of the center fielder getting clearance to run outside. Kemp was scheduled to have an MRI Friday, as a checkup, and the Dodgers’ hope is that Kemp will be OK to run soon, to begin the process of rebuilding his legs -- in the way that he is seemingly rebuilding a devastating swing.
Don’t forget that.