Whicker: Improving Kiké Hernandez not just a band-aid for Dodgers

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Dodgers’ Justin Turner looking rejuvenated on defense LOS ANGELES — Back in the days of open schoolyards, and back when kids played on them at their whim, there was No Labels baseball.You ran onto the field and your position was wherever you stopped. Who cared? Usually, the tall left-handed guy played first. Everything else was up for grabs.When Kiké Hernandez was 19 years old in Lexington, Ky., the second baseman was Delino DeShields and the shortstop was Jiovanni Mier. Both were first-round picks. Hernandez was a sixth-rounder. He wasn’t playing much and, worse yet, he watched kids from Houston’s rookie leagues come up and play in other spots. Finally, he approached Manager Rodney Linares.“Throw me out there in left field,” Hernandez told Linares “I won’t disappoint you.” Still, it took some extra work with the roving outfielder instructor to solidify his case. Sign up for Home Turf and get 3 exclusive stories every SoCal sports fan must read, sent daily. Subscribe here.“I’d been DH-ing,” he said Monday. “I didn’t like it. It was like pinch-hitting three or four times a night. I’m a high-energy guy.”The years went on and Hernandez learned more about hitting, and he got traded to Florida and then to the Dodgers. But he had finally nailed his position: Ballplayer.This season he is the only major leaguer to play at least one game at seven positions, everywhere but catcher and pitcher. He also played seven positions in 2017. Only Andrew Romine of Detroit played more.Ben Zobrist, here with the Cubs, is a hero in the movement. In 2009 at Tampa Bay, he played seven positions and has won two World Series (Kansas City and Chicago) doing so.“Teams are grooming players to do that in the minors,” Hernandez said. “It’s huge for a team. It’s like you have two players in one.” Hernandez also has 13 home runs. Six are against right-handers, who had him spellbound for a few years. He and Chris Taylor, another Dodger transformer, have smoothed out Dodger life without Corey Seager, the resident shortstop and one of the few Dodgers who fits one pigeonhole.He is 26 and he possesses an identity. Just because you’re a moving target doesn’t mean you can’t be a regular.“What’s fun is to be able to show off my defensive ability everywhere,” Hernandez said. “My goal this year was to become elite defensively in all seven spots. The middle infield is better for me because the outfield can be a little boring. It was a matter of not necessarily accepting the role, but coming to terms with it.”One can expect baseball to become more positionless. The inability to live without 12 or 13 pitchers makes it necessary, especially in the National League. Thirteen pitchers plus eight regulars plus a backup catcher leaves the manager only three spare bodies. There are no one-note utility men, not anymore.Besides, the incessant defensive shifting puts all infielders in the margins, where it comes down to catching and throwing from unfamiliar spots. Hernandez has made just four errors and only one in 108 innings at shortstop. He also came into Monday night ranked sixth on the team in plate appearances.Hernandez actually has given the Dodgers dugout voltage since he arrived in 2015, part of the Dee Gordon trade with the Marlins. But he has been more relaxed and effective the past two seasons, after his father Enrique responded well to treatments for multiple myeloma. Both of them were at the Rose Parade in January, and father threw out the first pitch to son Monday night.“He’s my hero,” Hernandez said. “He’s been in remission for two years. If he can survive cancer, I can survive not being an everyday player for a few years.”Related Articles Dodgers’ hot-hitting Corey Seager leaves game with back injury center_img Dodgers’ Dave Roberts says baseball’s unwritten rules ‘have changed, should change’ Dodgers bench slumping Cody Bellinger for a day Enrique was a coach and a scout for the Pirates. His son was around future major leaguers throughout. He knew what he wanted to do as a grown-up, except he was late growing up. He was 5-foot-5 as a junior in high school in Puerto Rico and then grew 5 inches the next year.A Houston scout named Luis Sola, who also signed Carlos Correa, was intrigued with the way the ball yelped off Hernandez’s bat and recommended him.“I was hitting the ball harder than anybody but the trajectory was low,” Hernandez said. “It was frustrating. I had to hit my way to the big leagues. Nothing was given to me. I just had to let everything take its course.”He also hit right-handers better than lefties as a minor leaguer, although as a big-leaguer his OPS is .874 against lefties, .610 the other way. This year the figures are .837 and .750, primarily because he’s seeing right-handers more often.On Tuesday the Dodgers gave out Hernandez bobbleheads. They’re even more lifelike when you move them around. Whicker: Dustin May yet another example of the Dodgers’ eye for pitching last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *