Ten months after returning too soon from an oblique muscle strain, Braves catcher Brian McCann said he finally figured out what was out of whack with his swing. And yes, he said, it stemmed from his strained side in late July.
“When I came back from that oblique I guess I was guarding everything,” he said, explaining how he unintentionally altered his swing to avoid aggravating the injury. “Because I’m going back and looking at all my film [of his swings] now, and I just wasn’t getting extended.”
After a slump that began in mid-August extended past 80 games and McCann went 7-for-44 (.159) with one homer and a .250 slugging percentage in a 13-game stretch through Monday, he noticed during one of his countless hours of watching video that he wasn’t getting his arms fully extended in his swing.
“I felt good enough to be getting hits, but not like how I feel now,” said McCann, who feels like back to being himself after going 6-for-14 with three doubles and two home runs in three games before Saturday.
Compensating for his side began when he returned from the 15-day disabled list Aug. 14 and continued not just through the season, but through his winter hitting sessions and the spring.
“When you take batting practice and you’re not hitting home runs whenever you want, that’s kind off a tell-tale sign,” said McCann, who knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure it out even with the help of experts in his family and the Braves coaching staff.
In his last 45 games before the oblique strain, McCann hit .339 with 14 homers, 30 RBIs and a .636 slugging percentage. In 37 games from the time he returned from the DL through the end of the season, he hit .180 with six homers and a .346 slugging percentage.
And in 84 games (304 at-bats) between his return from the DL and Monday, he hit just .211 with 13 homers and a .368 slugging percentage. This from a hitter who entered this season with a .286 career average and .486 slugging percentage in seven major league seasons.
“I wasn’t backing balls up; every hit I got was a single,” McCann said. “I got myself into some bad mechanical problems that I didn’t know. Got ‘em corrected and been feeling good since.”
Bad habits can be subtle and becomes so ingrained that a hitter doesn’t even realize he’s doing it – even a hitter who’s a student of the game and the son and brother of hitting instructors.
“Just muscle memory, doing it for the last two months, then carrying over into the offseason and into spring training,” McCann said. “I just wasn’t getting the extension that’s needed to hit for damage.”
Damage meaning hit for power. Extra-base hits and home runs.
If McCann is indeed back to being himself, Braves slugger Dan Uggla knows what that could mean for a lineup that’s had the National League’s most dynamic top-of-the-order duo this season in leadoff man Michael Bourn and No. 2 hitter Martin Prado. A whole lot more RBIs are available than what the Braves have produced so far.
“When he’s doing his thing like he’s capable of doing, it’s huge,” Uggla said of McCann. “He hit the go-ahead home run against the Yankees on Wednesday, then came out the gate and got us off to a 1-nothing lead [Friday] against Baltimore. When he’s being him, he’s the best.
“It can be scary. We can do a lot of damage. Mikey’s had the year he’s had and Prado’s had the year he’s had so far, with Mac coming on like he has lately, if I keep doing what I’m doing I think we’re going to be all right.”