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Last Year is History ... (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 10:19AM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 10:19AM
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Rodriguez's once-graceful swing had come to resemble the ugly hack of a carnival customer swinging a too-heavy sledgehammer at one of those ring-the-bell-and-win-a-prize booths. The more he pressed, the worse the results were. Long identified three major flaws:

• Rodriguez would sometimes drag his back foot forward rather than leave it in place as he began his swing, which decreased his leverage.

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• He would let his hands drift too far from his body during the swing, making it longer and "looser."

• His front leg kick, a trigger mechanism, had become grossly exaggerated. Rodriguez would sometimes lift his left knee as high as his waist, then step toward the pitcher with that leg -- a maneuver that would cause him to bring his front foot down late and violently, which created a tightness and imbalance in his swing.

"His leg kick was getting to a point where it wasn't getting down on time," Long says. "Your front foot has to land when the ball is about halfway to the plate. His was coming down much later than that. When that happens, you have to catch up a lot. You rush, and your body tends to drift [toward the pitcher]."

Long drastically cut the height of Rodriguez's leg kick and virtually eliminated the stride, instructing him to simply move his left foot up and down, not toward the pitcher. Now Rodriguez's left foot lands much softer and earlier, which gets him into a loaded, better-balanced position to hit. The changes also eliminated his drift and allowed him to keep his hands in tighter to his body, improving his core rotation. Think of a spinning figure skater: The closer the hands are to the body and the more stable the axis, the faster the skater spins. For Rodriguez, a faster, tighter spin has created better bat speed and power.

Rodriguez grooved his rebuilt swing through the winter to hit balls on a line into the back of the cage's net, an approach that de-emphasized lift and the temptation to pull the ball. Whereas Rodriguez actually fretted last season about how many home runs he hit in batting practice, Long has encouraged Rodriguez to maintain his line-drive approach in batting practice this year. Indeed, A-Rod did not hit one batting practice home run on Friday at cozy Fenway Park.

"He's hitting a lot of balls straightaway, and I think it's a good indication that he's not in any rush," Torre says. "Last year he seemed more anxious at the plate. He's not trying to pull the ball. When you are trying to pull the ball as a hitter, you are much easier to pitch to. When you are thinking of hitting it through the middle, you get that split second longer to watch the ball and react to movement."

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