Dodgers’ Dave Roberts calls Max Muncy bounceback season ‘critical’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Three key pieces of the lineup that led the majors in runs scored last season won’t be back with the Dodgers this season – Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Gavin Lux.

But they hope to add an All-Star to the lineup – Max Muncy.

“It’s critical,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the importance of a bounceback season from Muncy to offset the lineup losses. “This is as good as I’ve seen Max – body and mind – since he first came over here. It really is. And a lot of that is because he’s healthy and he’s just happy. And he’s hungry because last year, the sum of the season isn’t who he is and he’s determined to prove that.”

Last year was as bad as the Dodgers have seen Muncy. The severe elbow injury he suffered on the final day of the regular season in 2021 hampered him throughout 2022. Deep into August, his batting average was .178 with a .665 OPS despite every attempt to compensate for the problems in his swing caused by his back elbow – most prominently a “re-set” rehab assignment in the minors and a major swing change involving stepping backwards with his left foot before the pitch.

Last year’s struggles “absolutely” left scars mentally, Muncy acknowledges. But he has tossed that aside now.

“You try to just move on. You can’t dwell on anything, whether it’s good or bad,” he said. “If I would have hit .300 last year, I would still have to forget it and move on because that’s last year. Just like if I went 3 for 3 yesterday. That’s yesterday. It does nothing for me today.

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“My mindset has always been you can’t dwell on anything, good or bad. You take what you can from it and you keep moving forward. … That’s the whole process of this game. You have to learn how to battle that. You have to learn how to keep moving forward day to day.”

Muncy was able to finish strong last season and was one of several Dodgers position players who visited Driveline’s facility during the offseason to get analytic feedback on his swing. His elbow has fully recovered, allowing him to regain strength with a standard offseason workout regimen. Now ripping off the bandages applied to try to get through last season and returning that swing to its pre-elbow injury incarnation has been Muncy’s spring focus.

“The actual swing feels very good, very close to how it was before,” Muncy said. “We are trying to mimic the moves from 2021, arguably my best year. So we’re trying to get back to that – which is what I tried to do last year, but my body just didn’t want to cooperate. We just kept beating the same drum over and over again and it just wasn’t working. But now that I’m healthy and strong and back, it feels like we’re able to imitate it a little bit.”

Muncy hit at least 35 home runs in each of his three full seasons with the Dodgers before last year with an OPS near .900 and All-Star selections in 2019 and 2021. Returning that player to the lineup this year could go a long way towards compensating for the subtractions from last year’s lineup.

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“I think Max Muncy is going to be Max Muncy again,” said Freddie Freeman, calling the offensive losses from last year’s lineup “massive.”

“Yeah, we need Max Muncy to be Max Muncy. We were able to cover that last year. Who knows if we’d be able to cover that this year? We don’t know until we go through it. But the thing is we all believe Max Muncy is going to be Max Muncy.

“He’s just more free, free of mind. … The way he can control the strike zone. The way he looks at pitches, gets himself in good counts. I think he’s going to be just fine and that’s a huge boost that we’re going to need.”

Roberts said Muncy already looks “more free and easy” at the plate this spring than he did at any point last year. He is 9 for 30 (.300) this spring with three doubles and a home run, already benefitting from MLB’s new defensive restrictions which ban the shift.

“He’s able to stay through the baseball,” Roberts said. “With that elbow, that extension, he wasn’t able to do that (in 2022). So now you can see him staying through the ball much better than he did last year.

“I think it’s just kind of getting back to who he was as a baseball player. I don’t know what that means as far as slug(ging percentage) or all those other numbers. I just want him to be free and I think he’s there right now.”

BULLPEN BLEND

Roberts said the bullpen picture is “starting to come together” and he expects to open the season with at least two lefties – Alex Vesia and Caleb Ferguson.

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“Then that last spot or couple spots we can talk about it,” Roberts said. “But certainly the floor is those two guys (left-handers).”

The Dodgers have three other lefty relievers still in camp – Justin Bruihl, Victor Gonzalez and Adam Kolarek.

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ALSO

Right-hander Ryan Pepiot left his start Friday after three innings with tightness in his lower back. Pepiot said the problem was not serious and won’t affect his throwing schedule leading up to another start in five days. …

Roberts said Tony Gonsolin continues to progress in his recovery from a sprained left ankle and could progress to throwing off a mound again. “The hope is some time later next week,” he said.

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