?He would let his
hands drift too far from his body during the swing, making it longer and
?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]."
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.
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."
Rodriguez hit both
of his walk-off homers this month to centerfield, the second coming last
Thursday off Cleveland closer Joe Borowski with first base open and two outs, a
situation Rodriguez admits would have caused him to "outthink" himself
last year. "I'll tell you what," says eight-time batting champ Tony
Gwynn, "his swing this year compared to last is night and day. Last year he
was kind of trying to force through the zone. Now it looks like he's just
swinging ... no effort, just getting into position."
"He's got a
whole different look about him now," San Francisco Giants slugger Barry
Bonds says. "You can see it in his eyes, even on TV."
Bonds ended last
week with 740 home runs, 15 short of Hank Aaron's record. With his quick start
and 478 career homers--180 more than Bonds had at the same age-- Rodriguez has
regenerated discussion that he could be the heir not only to Bonds's final
career total but also to his single-season record of 73. "I hope he hits a
hundred," Bonds says. "With A-Rod's talent he has a chance to do
anything he wants to do, anything he has a mind to do."
Oh, yes: that head
again. Rodriguez has maintained a much lower public profile this year, with the
notable exception of a spring training lapse in which he suggested on a popular
New York radio show that this could be the year, if he doesn't produce, that
New York fans run him out of town--a slip that brought him a tongue-lashing
from third base coach Larry Bowa. "Vanilla is the word we use a lot,"
Bowa says. "Keep it simple."