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Monroe lowers leg, boosts power

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Craig Monroe’s homer this afternoon smacked about a third of the way up the huge batter’s eye in center field.

A monster shot.

“It felt good,” Monroe said, with a satisfied smile. “I’m getting there. I’m still getting used to not having the big leg kick, but it’s definitely feeling more natural.”

Throughout his career, Monroe has lifted his left leg as he prepared to hack. This spring, Monroe has worked intensely with hitting coach Don Long to take out the leg kick.

Today, Monroe’s swing was smooth — and his left foot remained planted on the ground. The result was a tape-measure shot in the fourth inning off Astros righty Felipe Paulino.

“Fortunately, he’s going from the leg kick to the normal swing,” manager John Russell said. “It’s more difficult to go (the other way). The less movement is going to help him. He’s taken to it pretty well.”

Monroe could be the right-handed power bat the Pirates need off their bench. Or, he could be that guy who last season struck out 48 times in 163 at-bats.

In 780 career games, Monroe has 112 homers … and 547 whiffs.

“We want him to drive the ball when he has the opportunity,” Russell said. “We’ll see how his swing progresses. The strikeouts came with the leg kick, so we’ll see how it plays out.

“The more he does it, the more comfortable he gets with it. Hopefully, the strikeouts will come down.”

Monroe is a non-roster invitee to camp. If he makes the team as a backup outfielder, the Pirates would have to clear space on the 40-man roster.

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