Max Muncy reaches one-year contract extension, but Dodgers get blanked by Brewers
Max Muncy’s self-belief was wavering earlier this season as he floundered during his return from an elbow injury.
The Dodgers’ trust in the veteran slugger, however, never ceased.
It’s why the infielder, who will turn 32 on Thursday, continued to play every day, even with his batting average hovering around .160.
It’s why he still hit in the middle of the order, even as his trademark power flickered with just nine home runs in his first 83 games.
And it’s why the Dodgers’ front office engaged with Muncy’s agent on contract negotiations late last month, eager to work out a new deal, even with the team holding a club option for Muncy next season.
“We went into it with the idea of trying to figure something out that would provide him that peace of mind,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, “and also continue what he’s done here for the last four-plus years.”
A new deal was finally completed Monday, with the team announcing that it had signed Muncy to a one-year extension for $13.5 million next year, plus a club option in 2024 for $10 million plus incentives with no buyout.
“It means everything to me,” Muncy said. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Hours after the announcement, the Dodgers lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-0, wasting a six-inning, one-run, seven-strikeout start from Julio Urías (who gave up his lone run on a solo homer to Luis Urías) while getting shut out at home for the first time all season.
“They do a great job of game-planning,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his lineup was blanked by left-handed starter Eric Lauer and four Brewers relievers. “They prevent runs. They match up. They’ve got good arms.”
Muncy, however, was a bright spot with a hit and two walks — remaining one of baseball’s hottest hitters this month and continuing to repay the Dodgers’ season-long faith.
“It’s definitely a relief,” Muncy said of getting a deal done now. “I don’t know if it was weighing on me. I think just not being a good baseball player was weighing on me. It was a rough go there. Just trying to understand where I was.
“With everyone around me picking me up and reminding me of certain things, things got a little bit easier,” Muncy added. “Now it’s been a little bit of a relief with some of the results lately.”
Friedman and Roberts insisted that Muncy’s recent upturn had no impact on the timing of his extension — “It’s been done for a little bit,” Friedman said — but it nonetheless served as the latest encouraging development in a suddenly brightening season for the fifth-year Dodger.
“I couldn’t be happier for Max,” Roberts said. “I don’t think any of us internally wavered on [whether] he was gonna get back to being the player that he’s always been.”
Muncy wasn’t always so sure.
After spending the offseason rehabilitating a torn ligament and other damage in his left elbow resulting from a collision at first base during the final regular-season game last year, Muncy didn’t look right early in the season.
Julio Urías gets the start as the Dodgers open a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. PT.
He wasn’t hitting home runs. He was prone to extended cold streaks with the bat. And even with one of the highest walk rates in the majors, he was posting numbers well below league average while trying to identify what was missing in his swing.
His frustration was clear, evidenced every time he spiked his helmet or slammed his bat after mis-hitting pitches he used to demolish.
He battled some internal doubt too, acknowledging Monday that he wasn’t certain he would get back to being the same player who hit 35 or more home runs in three of the last four seasons.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t,” Muncy said. “You have a huge injury like that. … You didn’t feel like yourself. It was a little tough.”
Things started to change during a trip to Colorado in late July — right around the time the contract extension talks began with the team.
While reviewing video of himself, he realized his lingering elbow issue had resulted in a change to his bat path.
During drills in the cage, he made a crucial mechanical tweak, planting his back left foot with a small, quick step before exploding into the rest of his swing.
Now he said he feels like he’s getting “downhill with my shoulders and my path.” When he’s squaring balls up, they are jumping off the barrel on a lower, harder trajectory instead of weakly being popped up.
“That’s baseball. It’s a game of adjustments,” he said. “When you get out of whack, you got to do something to get back in sync. Unfortunately, it took us longer than it should have this year.”
With his performance in August, though — Muncy was batting .328 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in the month entering Monday, ranking third in the majors during that period with a 1.185 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — the Dodgers are hopeful things are clicking just in time.
Not only for this year but also for Muncy’s long-term future with the club.
“Maybe that’s why the last couple weeks have been so important,” said Muncy, who is batting .192 on the season with 16 home runs and a .716 OPS. “Just knowing you can be the player you’ve always been.”
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw faced live hitting Monday for the first time since he injured his back this month, moving him one step closer to a return. Roberts said the left-hander will throw a four-inning simulated game Saturday in Miami and could rejoin the team’s rotation afterward. … Reliever Brusdar Graterol was activated Monday after missing more than a month because of a shoulder injury. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strikeouts.
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