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Dodgers’ Max Muncy is tinkering to improve his plate profile

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LOS ANGELES ― Mitch Keller threw Max Muncy a fastball on the outside corner of the plate. It’s a safe pitch, one Muncy only rarely drives for power. On Monday, however, Muncy swatted Keller’s pitch over the center-field fence for a home run in the Dodgers’ 5-2 win.

For a player who had been stuck on 18 home runs for a month, with only five singles and two doubles between June 3 and July 2, rounding the bases was a triumph.

“No doubt it’s been a grind for me,” Muncy said. “I just try to show up every day, get my work in, and try to get back to where I’ve been.”

Muncy added a single later in the game, finishing 2 for 4 and raising his batting average six points in the process. A .195 batting average on July 4 is not where Muncy envisioned himself when the season began, but it’s in line with the .196 average Muncy posted in 2022.

Internally, the Dodgers believe there is more to Muncy’s hitting profile than a patient slugger who cannot hit for average. They’re still waiting for his statistics to bear that out.

“There’s times when he chases slug,” manager Dave Roberts said of Muncy. “I know there’s a better hitter in there. I just don’t see a world in which he’s a .190 hitter.”

Keller also caught Muncy looking at a fastball over the plate for a called third strike Monday, and passivity has been a more familiar foe than aggressiveness. According to Statcast, Muncy’s take rate on pitches over the heart of the plate is 39 percent, dwarfing the league average of 28 percent.

Health has been a mitigating factor each of the last two seasons, too. Muncy tore the UCL in his left elbow in the final regular-season game of 2021, an injury that sapped much of his power in 2022. He had been relatively healthy this season, and hitting for power, until a hamstring strain sent him to the 10-day injured list in June.

Since returning, Muncy has been toying with a series of mechanical adjustments. He removed the slight step-back with his left foot as he loaded up to hit. He brought it back. He changed the position of his hands ― all attempts to re-discover the form that allowed Muncy to hit .249 in 2021 and .251 in 2019, both All-Star seasons for the 32-year-old slugger.

The adjustments will continue, Muncy said.

“This last week, the results haven’t necessarily been there in the game,” he said after Monday’s game. “My work has been good and that’s what we’re focused on. It’s all about the process.”

TEACHABLE MOMENT

Roberts spent part of his pregame routine working with rookie James Outman in center field. Outman has “a lot of room for improvement,” Roberts said, particularly on how he approaches balls hit in front of him.

“I just wanted him to think differently in center field, as far as getting different reads and I wanted to hear his thoughts on how he goes about playing center field,” Roberts said. “I’ve seen enough of a sample, and it was good for me to get James and Clayton (McCullough) to talk through some things.”

Outs Above Average rates Outman as a plus-3 center fielder overall, and a net neutral on balls hit in front of him. Defensive Runs Saved has Outman as a minus-4 this season, with his throwing arm the only positive attribute in his profile.

ALSO

Noah Syndergaard threw a bullpen and will face live hitters in a three-inning simulated game Thursday, Roberts said. A minor league rehabilitation assignment could follow. … Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) will throw a bullpen on Friday or Saturday, “and we’ll see how that goes” before determining his next steps, Roberts said. … Chris Taylor (knee) remains in Arizona for his rehab, with a projected return “soon after the break,” Roberts said. … Pittsburgh Pirates closer David Bednar replaced Kershaw on the NL All-Star team roster. … The Dodgers acquired veteran utility player Pat Valaika from the Seattle Mariners for cash and assigned him to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Valaika, a Valencia native, was hitting .240 with four home runs in 38 games with Triple-A Tacoma.

UP NEXT

Dodgers (RHP Bobby Miller, 4-1, 4.23 ERA) vs. Pittsburgh (RHP Osvaldo Bido, 0-1, 4.74 ERA), Wednesday, 7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, MLB Network (out of market only), 570 AM

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