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Mark McGwire says Dodgers to start hitting big any day now

'There's so much talent in that clubhouse,' the hitting coach says. As of Thursday, the Dodgers were the second-lowest-scoring team in the major leagues.

May 02, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez

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Long drives home and sleepless nights have become a part of Mark McGwire's life now that the former home run champion is the Dodgers' hitting coach.

But McGwire said his job is everything he hoped it would be when he left the St. Louis Cardinals to accept it.

His off-season home in Irvine has become his year-round home, which allowed him to catch his two sons' recent Little League game. The Dodgers' training facilities might be the best in baseball.

As for the Dodgers' low-scoring offense, McGwire believes it's only a matter of time before it is "devastating."

"There's so much talent in that clubhouse," McGwire said. "I know it's going to be all put together."

Over the previous six seasons, the Dodgers have had six hitting coaches. Each of them said something similar. None of them could actualize their visions, except Don Mattingly, who as hitting coach in 2008 had a chemically enhanced Manny Ramirez fall into his lap.

The Dodgers will head into their series opener against the San Francisco Giants on Friday averaging 3.37 runs per game. Only the Miami Marlins were scoring fewer runs per game through Wednesday, at 2.82.

"Underachieving," McGwire said. "Very much underachieving."

But McGwire, who is working with assistant hitting coach John Valentin, sees reasons for optimism.

"We've worked the count very well," McGwire said.

Dodgers hitters have seen an average of 4.00 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked second in the National League and fourth in the major leagues entering Thursday. The teams that ranked ahead of them are all high-scoring teams: the Oakland Athletics (5.59 runs per game), the New York Mets (4.85 runs per game) and the Boston Red Sox (4.02 runs per game).

If those teams are scoring, why aren't the Dodgers?

"I think we can be better being ready to hit the ball in certain counts," McGwire said.

In other words, there's nothing wrong with the way the Dodgers are setting up the opposing pitchers. But when they get the pitches for which they're waiting, they're missing them.

"That comes with time," McGwire said. "We're only a month into the season. There are five months left. Good things are ahead of us."

The bats have fallen particularly silent in key situations. The Dodgers are hitting .211 with runners in scoring position, second-worst in the National League entering Thursday. They are batting .120 with the bases loaded, third-worst in the league.

"I'm a big believer that you can't chase the game of baseball," McGwire said. "You've got to let the game come back to you. You let the game come back to you by you being patient and getting what you want to hit."

In McGwire's view, his players are trying to do too much.

"If they're going out of the strike zone in hitter's counts, it tells me they're trying a little too hard," he said. "We've talked about how if it's not there, pass it on to the guy behind you. We've talked about relaxation. We've talked about treating it like an 0-0 count, nobody on."

Is there any reason to believe this will change?

"As soon as we get the big boys rolling, the relaxation of the lineup will happen," McGwire said.

Of the "big boys," only Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have been hitting. Gonzalez is batting .330 with three home runs and 20 runs batted in. Crawford is hitting .308 with four stolen bases.

Hanley Ramirez, who missed almost a month recovering from thumb surgery, has started only two games. Matt Kemp, who is recovering from an off-season shoulder operation, is batting .260. Andre Ethier is hitting .237.

McGwire thinks Gonzalez's success is a direct result of his mental approach.

"He has a tremendous game plan," McGwire said. "He really knows what the guy is trying to do to him. He really knows what he wants to do to the pitcher."

McGwire wants the other hitters to develop a similar tactical sophistication. Believing current players watch too much video of themselves, McGwire is trying to encourage the Dodgers' hitters to study the opposing pitching more.

But not even Gonzalez is hitting many home runs. The Dodgers' leading home run hitter is Crawford, who bats leadoff, with four. The team's 20 home runs were tied for the second-fewest in the NL through Wednesday.

"We have guys that can hit home runs," McGwire said. "We don't have guys that are pure home run hitters. There are only a few pure home run hitters in the game of baseball. We have guys that are really, really good hitters that are going to hit a lot of home runs."

Kemp wouldn't qualify as a pure home run hitter?

"He's a great all-around hitter — high-average, high-RBI guy — that's going to hit a lot of home runs," McGwire said. "But I wouldn't label him as a home run hitter."

McGwire thinks Kemp isn't far from recapturing his old form.

"I don't think he's far at all," McGwire said. "It really comes down to balls and strikes. It really comes down to him sticking to his guns every day and getting pitches he wants to hit."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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