Green rediscovers his lost swing
Batting-cage session produces 'awesome' results for outfielder
"I had hitting all figured out five or six years ago. Now I'm learning how to hit." -- Shawn Green
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The swings, noticeably quicker than those Shawn Green took 60 minutes earlier, imparted greater energy and more carry to the baseball. The contact produced crisper sounds and line drives that skipped rather than bounced in the outfield grass. The difference was as encouraging to the man responsible for it, as it was undeniable to those who witnessed it.
Uplifted as he was, Green could have skipped, too. An extended morning session in the batting cage had made Green's Wednesday "my most productive day of the spring" and sent him home happy.
Chances are that he will arrive at the Mets' complex a tad earlier than usual and with some sense of urgency on Thursday morning. Green also left camp with a sense of anticipation on Wednesday, expecting more good things to come.
"See," Julio Franco said, pointing to his own forehead. "Hitting is all mental."
Well, not all mental. That was clear on Wednesday, when, at Franco's urging, Green altered his batting stance, which in turn energized his swing, which in turn jogged the memories of those who had seen him overwhelm pitchers from 1998-2002.
One revised swing produced a hot line drive to left-center field that moved as catcher Mike Piazza's opposite-field gappers once moved. The next one sent a ball to the base of the right-field wall.
"Awesome," Franco said after each.
"Hit the bottom of the ball. Awesome.
"Empty your head. Don't think about what you have to do. Just feel it. Awesome.
"Don't think about getting comfortable. Just feel it."
Another swing, another "Awesome."
It was only batting practice. And it is only March. But Green's exhibition-game batting average is only .000 after 13 at-bats. In the kingdom of the blind, a one-eye man is king. In an 0-for-13 world, even a BP double is good for the soul.
Franco had studied Green's batting-practice session on Tuesday morning and reached the same conclusion that he reached last spring after a day of observing Carlos Beltran.
"Too balanced," Franco said when the tutoring session was complete. "He needs more weight on his back leg. He was even, 50-50. And 50-50 is no good. It should be 70-30 [favoring the left leg in Green's case]."
A camera, located just outside the batting cage to the third-base side, captured Green's left-handed swings, and an attached computer enabled teacher Franco, his student, Beltran, and hitting coach Rick Down to compare the early, flawed swings with the quicker swings Green generated after implementing Franco's advice.
The computer locked on the instant of contact and worked backwards, measuring the time lapse from contract back to the beginning of the swing.
"He's much quicker to the ball," Beltran said after seeing the moving images side by side.
"Carlos [Beltran] was the same last year," Franco said. "Then, boom!"
Franco didn't approach Green until Wednesday morning.
"I didn't want him to try it in the game [on Tuesday]," Franco said. "I wanted him to see that it worked and then go home a think about it. He'll be so eager when he comes back here tomorrow."
"I am excited," Green said as he exited the clubhouse.
Green called his altered stance "a better hitting position" and said it enabled him to be "more powerful and more aggressive. It's a pretty big difference. It's kind of bold doing this now. It's kind of scary to make changes. But it's the right thing."
Green, 34, thought he had detected and corrected a four-year-old flaw in his swing during the offseason. Concerned about a significant decline in power -- from 157 home runs in a four-year stretch ending in 2002 to 84 over the past four years -- he watched video during the offseason and compared it to tapes of himself in his third season with the Dodgers, 2002. That was when he hit .285 with 42 home runs and 114 RBIs.
Green noticed he had begun "pushing" the bat head into the contact area with his arms close to his chest, instead of extending his arms to drive the ball. It was initially a concession to right shoulder surgery he underwent after the 2003 season, but it soon deepened into a bad habit.
Green explained it this way: "My arms are my levers. The last few years, I've been hitting without full use of my levers. I was cutting short."
The outfielder assumed a batting stance and illustrated it by collapsing his arms in near his chest as he swung.
"I got into that habit by trying to take the strain off my shoulder," he said. "It bothered me during the '03 season, then I had it scoped. I worked hard this winter on fixing the problem. When I'm in the [batting] cage now, the ball is carrying like it used to. Hopefully, I can transfer that into the games."
After his session on Wednesday, he suggested the change in balance and weight shift might have helped correct the problem with his arms.
"If these guys had been in California with me," he said, "I might be done with all this now."
Other issues have developed. One is a change most players would not consider much of a problem at all.
"The ball has slowed down, so much I've been [swinging] a little early," Green said. "I have more time to see the ball and I'm not used to that."
In contrast to Green's power struggles over the past four seasons, this one appears to be an easier problem to fix, though it still had him in a temporary funk. The 13 hitless at-bats were not indicative of the offseason progress he thought he had made. Now the weight shift has made a bigger change.
"I guess I could have come here with the same swing I had last year and dropped in a few hits to make it look better -- better than 0-for-13," he said. "But I wanted to do more and get back where I was when I thought I knew how to hit."
The Mets' right-field job is Green's to lose. He offers a veteran presence on a team hoping to thrive in the postseason, when experience often weighs heavily. Still, Lastings Milledge gives the Mets a youthful, talented alternative should Green falter.
Willie Randolph is making no declarations of job security for anybody, but the manager isn't shy about offering praise for Green.
"He's smart," Randolph said. "He knows the game. It's just a matter of him being consistent and finding a swing he's comfortable with. He brings a lot to the table."
Green especially likes the idea of having first baseman Carlos Delgado as a teammate again, since they played together for five full seasons with the Blue Jays. Green credits Delgado with helping him become a power hitter.
Before they initiated home-run contests before every game during batting practice in 1998, Green had hit a grand total of 42 home runs in three seasons. Over the next two seasons, he hit 77 -- including 42 in 1999 -- before being traded to Los Angeles, where he hit 162 more in five seasons, including 49 in 2001.
"I didn't really know how to hit the other way for power when we started," Green said. "With both of us hitting lefty, the rule was, we had to hit home runs to center field or left field. If we hit one to right, it was a foul ball. There was no pulling, because that's an easy way to get into some bad habits.
"The first year, I couldn't keep up with him. But all of a sudden, I started learning how to drive the ball to center field. Once you can drive the ball to center field and out of the park, you can really drive it anywhere. That's how I started hitting home runs."
Their friendship now transcends the playing field. Last weekend, Delgado met with Green's family, who were in for a visit.
"He's a good friend and he's helped me a lot in my career," Green said.
If Green can return to anything close to his former power-hitting form, the Mets would have a lineup that might have made Cy Young nervous. The power core already is formidable with Beltran, David Wright, Delgado and Moises Alou, while Jose Reyes and Paul Lo Duca are highly capable table-setters.
It's a special situation for Green, much different from when he played for the Blue Jays, Dodgers and, more recently, with the Diamondbacks.
"I don't feel the pressure here," Green said. "Sometimes, in years past, I felt that I had to hit 40 home runs in order for the team to compete. This lineup is so solid up and down that if everyone goes out and just has good years, not great years, we'll be fine. If a few guys have great years, then watch out."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.