McGwire's familiarity with Kemp pays dividends

Veteran outfielder goes deep in consecutive games after coach's return

McGwire's familiarity with Kemp pays dividends

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It didn't take long for bench coach Mark McGwire to make a tangible impact on the Padres' offense.

McGwire -- who missed three weeks earlier in camp to tend to his family while his wife had an undisclosed medical issue -- returned to Peoria Monday. On Thursday, Matt Kemp launched his first homer of the spring and went 3-for-4, and on Friday, he homered again (and singled while wearing the wrong jersey).

It's no coincidence that McGwire's return directly preceded Kemp's breakout this spring. In fact, it was a small bit of advice from McGwire that sparked the recent hot streak.

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"It was that simple: just finish [my swing] higher," Kemp said. "It helps me with my path -- just cleans it up a little bit more. It keeps my bat through the zone a lot longer. It's little things like that that help you succeed."

Of course, it helps that McGwire is familiar with Kemp's swing, having worked with him for two seasons as the Dodgers' hitting coach in 2013 and '14. Kemp said the advice was nothing more than McGwire reiterating wisdom he had imparted to Kemp in the past.

"That's usually how it works when you get hitting guys that are familiar with you, especially with as much time as we spent together," Kemp said. "He can look for things."

Kemp's most crucial work with McGwire came during the 2014 season, when Kemp was coming off ankle surgery the previous year. For much of the season's first half, the veteran outfielder struggled and couldn't seem to tap into his immense power.

But by the time the second half rolled around, Kemp had re-gained his stroke, and his .606 slugging percentage after the break was a 176-point jump from his first-half numbers.

"He helped me a lot, especially in 2014, coming off my ankle injury," Kemp said. "We were trying to figure out how to generate some power and get my swing back. We grinded. We grinded for the whole first half and finally figured it out."

Kemp wasn't exactly struggling before McGwire's return. He's hitting .346 this spring and is second on the team with a 1.067 OPS. He's enjoyed working with hitting coach Alan Zinter, calling the Zinter/McGwire mix "a really good combination for us as a team."

Kemp's solo homer

But there are obvious benefits to Kemp working with a former coach, who spent two seasons in the past dissecting his swing.

"When you're a hitting coach, you spend every single day thinking about your 12 or 13 guys," said manager Andy Green. "Matt was one of his main guys, and so Mac knew [Kemp's] swing inside and out. He has a feel for what Matt does when Matt goes well. And you saw [the effect] immediately."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.