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Dodgers' hitting woes compare to the Angels' early-season slump

Mickey Hatcher, the Angels' hitting coach before being fired in May and now working with Dodgers hitters, sees similarities between the two cases.

September 25, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez

SAN DIEGO — Mickey Hatcher has seen this before: A star-studded lineup with a new nine-figure centerpiece can't hit, can't score and can't win games.

Hatcher is a special assistant to Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti, and he has been working alongside hitting coach Dave Hansen in recent weeks. But at the start of this season, Hatcher was the Angels' hitting coach. He was fired in May.

In Hatcher's view, there are similarities between the Dodgers of today and the Angels of April — in particular, in how high-profile newcomers Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols responded to exospheric expectations.

"He had all the pressures of coming over," Hatcher said of Pujols. "He had the same pressures that these guys have. … Especially Gonzalez."

Pujols didn't hit his first home run for the Angels until May 6. The Angels were 11-17 heading into that game.

Gonzalez hit a home run in his first at-bat as a Dodger, then went 25 games without another, until he hit two in Cincinnati on Sunday.

Hatcher conceded one major difference: Pujols and the Angels had an entire season to find their offensive rhythm, and they eventually did. Gonzalez and the Dodgers not only have a lot less time, but are also burdened with the pressure of a pennant race.

The Dodgers have nine games remaining. On Tuesday, they open a three-game series in San Diego. They could win all of them and still fail to secure the second of two National League wild-card spots.

Hansen acknowledged that the time element presents a significant challenge.

"You think, 'Wow, this guy's so good, there should be no problem,' " Hansen said. "It doesn't really work that way. They still have personalities. And they have to find how they fit with each other.

"As much as we try to prepare them and get that extra work in, they have to fit together. That takes time. You've got some guys who have been here who want to prove something. You have the new guys who want to prove something."

What ultimately turned the Angels around, Hatcher said, was that in the wake of his dismissal, they found "that guy" — a player who consistently made something happen, whether it was with a home run, a stolen base or by making a game-changing defensive play.

That player was Mike Trout.

"Trout, he sets the tone for every game," Hatcher said.

On the Dodgers, there's no question "that guy" is Matt Kemp.

"He kind of exemplifies what we're all about," Hansen said.

Kemp was hitting .359 with 12 home runs and 28 runs batted in in 34 games when he landed on the disabled list for the first time because of a strained hamstring. He hasn't been the same since.

Kemp returned for two days in late May, only to re-injure the hamstring. And when he returned from that, he injured his left shoulder crashing into the center-field wall at Colorado on Aug. 28.

In the 63 games Kemp has played since landing on the disabled list for the first time, he is hitting .274 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs.

"The swing's similar," Hansen said. "It's just not as explosive."

Hansen is trying to inspire change by lightening the mood in the batting cages.

"Fun stuff," he said. "Don't get so specific on mechanics."

Hatcher agrees with that approach. He also thinks it's important that coaches help players block out negative thoughts.

"I know Kemp thinks he's letting the team down," Hatcher said. "I know Gonzalez thinks he's letting the team down. I know [Shane] Victorino thinks he's letting the team down. You've got to forget about that."

Hatcher draws from his experience as a player. Hatcher hit more than five home runs only twice in his 12-year major league career.

But in the 1988 World Series, he batted .368 with two home runs and five runs batted in for the champion Dodgers.

"When I got a chance to be in the World Series as a player, I didn't worry about whether I failed or not," Hatcher said. "I was just happy to be out there. I was going to compete. That was it.

"I never thought about my mechanics. I was just ready to let it go. I think there's a lot to be said about that. That's the attitude you have to have."

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