Gonzalez turns to McGwire for help
PHOENIX — For the last five seasons, Adrian Gonzalez was basically his own hitting coach.
"I really got to understand my swing and got a feel of what I wanted to do," Gonzalez said. "That's why I didn't need to get a lot of feedback from hitting coaches. It wasn't that they weren't good hitting coaches. It was that I knew what I was trying to do, I knew how to fix it."
But Gonzalez is taking a new approach to fixing a swing that he believes was flawed throughout last season, telling hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Valentin he will do whatever they tell him. Gonzalez started working with McGwire last month, making weekly drives from his off-season home in La Jolla to Orange County.
"I don't want myself to get in the middle of it," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes I need outside perspective. It's like taking a step back so I can take two steps forward."
He thinks McGwire's and Valentin's objective sets of eyes could help him avoid the kinds of pitfalls he encountered last year.
Feeling that his right shoulder was back to full strength after a 2010 operation, Gonzalez said he went into last season determined to hit more home runs. Gonzalez, who hit 40 home runs in 2009, saw that number dip to 27 in 2011.
Gonzalez believes his desire to regain his power led to mechanical issues.
"Like keeping your eyes down on a ball the entire time, even after contact," he said. "That's something I've really done well in the past that I really got away from last year. I guess in trying to force the issue, your head goes early. It didn't allow my swing to finish. I lost my point of contact. There are a lot of bad habits that are created off of that."
That was something McGwire pointed out to him in a batting cage session.
"They're also really emphasizing a strong bottom hand, really controlling the barrel with that one," Gonzalez said. "I don't know if I got a little top-hand-happy. I rolled over some balls. I'm going back to being a really bottom-hand-dominant guy."
Because Gonzalez knows himself so well, McGwire said that simple instructions go far. McGwire offered the example of when he told Gonzalez he was taking his eye off the ball.
"It clicked with him," McGwire said. "It was so beautiful. Everything just fell into place."
McGwire said Gonzalez's best seasons are still ahead of him.
"He's a gap-to-gap hitter," McGwire said. "He really likes to use the left-center field area. For him, being as good a hitter as he is, home runs are going to come. That's just going to be an added plus for him."
Pitching assignments are set for the Dodgers' first five exhibition games. Clayton Kershaw will start the opener Saturday. Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch Sunday, Chad Billingsley and Chris Capuano on Monday, Josh Beckett on Tuesday and Aaron Harang on Wednesday. Ted Lilly might also pitch Wednesday. … Non-roster catcher Eliezer Alfonzo still hasn't reported to the Dodgers' spring-training complex. When he does, he will be assigned to minor league camp. Alfonzo remains in his native Venezuela infected with the dengue virus. Catcher Matt Wallach, son of third base coach Tim Wallach, replaced Alfonzo in major league camp.