McMahon shows power, strike-zone control

March 10th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The video plays out a simple logic that and the Rockies hope repeats itself.

D-backs right-hander Luke Weaver ran the count full Tuesday and threw McMahon a belt-high fastball over the middle. McMahon swung easy and drove the ball 439 feet, over the center-field wall. He then went into his heel-striking, pigeon-toed homer trot while Weaver rolled his neck in exasperation.

A lot of what’s supposed to happen is coming true for McMahon.

As second-round pick in 2013 and a Major League regular at second base the past two years, McMahon, 26, is supposed to be a key part of the lineup. With Nolan Arenado now a member of the Cardinals, McMahon must be a key component. Arenado took his Gold Gloves with him and left McMahon to fill that home -- but third base is McMahon’s natural position.

For McMahon to be the force the Rockies envisioned, and for him to make Arenado’s absence less painful, McMahon must calmly punish pitches like Weaver’s poorly located 93 mph fastball.

“My goal early in spring is to see the ball, and see how you’re seeing it,” said McMahon, who added another 439-foot homer during the Rockies' 7-5 victory Wednesday, off the Padres' Dan Altavilla.

“Typically, your swing is not perfect right off the bat, unless you’re Charlie Blackmon. You come in here, and you’ve got to work it out.”

When McMahon struggles -- and he did last season with a .215 batting average and 66 strikeouts in 193 plate appearances -- he often has missed such pitches. As chronicled, McMahon has too often either whiffed or fouled that pitch off, especially early in counts. Crush a pitch before two strikes, as McMahon showed Tuesday, and strike three isn’t a factor.

Hitters will miss sometimes -- like in his first at-bat Wednesday against the Padres, when lefty MacKenzie Gore, No. 6 on the MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects list, beat McMahon with fastballs in the zone before striking him out on a slider. But that was just McMahon’s second strikeout (and third left-on-left plate appearance) in a Cactus League season that is still early.

According to Rockies internal numbers, McMahon entered Wednesday with a chase rate (swings outside the strike zone) of just 10%. For argument’s sake, last season’s MLB average chase rate was 27.4%.

“’Mac’ is still getting into the swing of things, but overall he hasn't expanded the zone,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “There are a couple walks in there. He’s taking balls that are borderline. It is part of his game, the potential for on-base [percentage] via the walk, and having control of the strike zone.”

The easy swing McMahon displayed, in the Rockies’ thinking, should serve as a reminder that big results don’t require a matching effort level. High-velocity fastballs were a problem for McMahon last season but weren’t in 2019, when he launched 24 homers and previewed his power-hitting potential.

“What you’re seeing is maturity and understanding,” Rockies assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar said. “’I don’t have to hit it to the moon. Let me cut down the effort. Let me just touch the ball.’

“Because when he touches the ball, he hits it freakin’ hard.”

The challenge will be when the regular season begins, the games and stats count, and there are bigger crowds. If McMahon can stay clear-headed and fight wanting to try harder, homers like the ones Tuesday and Wednesday could become more common.

“When I hit homers and I’m taking good swings like that, I feel like I’m never rushed,” McMahon said. “I give myself plenty of time to get ready and get my swing off.

“I feel I’m starting to get there.”