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Break It Down

Ballard’s piece on Bobby V isn’t the only reason to check out SI this week. Tom Verducci deconstructs Alex Rodriguez’s hitting. Verducci gets the skinny from the Yankees hitting coach, Kevin Long, who “identified three major flaw” with Rodriguez’s 2006 swing:

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

• 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.

Over at The Baseball Analysts, Jeff Albert has a great take on Rodriguez’s April, complete with images. Albert concludes:

While I am not so sure A-Rod will top 120 HR this season, I don’t feel that this is simply a hot streak. What we are seeing is a great player making great adjustments and setting himself up for a great year.

Our good pal Jay Jaffe also tackles Rodriguez’s hot start over at BP and The New York Sun.

Meanwhile, Jon Heyman has the latest on The Boss and the boys at River Ave. Blues tell us everything we need to know about Phillip Hughes (but were afraid to ask).

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