'Pleasant surprise.' How Andy Pages overcame serious shoulder injury to make Dodgers debut

Dodgers center fielder Andy Pages makes a catch at the wall against the Nationals at Dodger Stadium Tuesday.

Andy Pages’ first stint in triple A lasted all of one night.

On May 16 last year, in Pages’ first game after a promotion from double-A Tulsa as the Dodgers’ top outfield prospect, the young slugger logged four at-bats for the club’s Oklahoma City affiliate.

A strikeout. A lineout to center. A five-pitch walk. Then, in the eighth inning, another strikeout — one that ended on an awkward whiff of a low slider; and, ultimately, resulted in a torn labrum that required the young Cuban slugger to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.

“As soon as he took the swing, you knew something was not good,” Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said Tuesday, recalling how Pages immediately grabbed at his shoulder as he walked back to the dugout that night. “Obviously, it was a huge letdown for him, and for us.”

But not one that stalled Pages’ rise up the Dodgers’ organization for long.

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Exactly 11 months after last year’s painful shoulder injury, Pages was called up to the big leagues by the Dodgers on Tuesday to start in center field against the Washington Nationals.

"From the moment I got hurt, I put my mind to working hard," Pages said in Spanish before Tuesday's game, "to get to the big leagues as fast as possible."

It’s an arrival the club had long envisioned, after Pages emerged in recent years as one of the best all-around position players in the farm system with a combination of potent right-handed power and versatile outfield defense.

But, it nonetheless came sooner than anyone would have expected after Pages’ injury last year — a rapid rise and recovery that, to Barbary and others around the organization, says as much about the 23-year-old as his .371 batting average, five home runs and 15 RBIs in 15 games with Oklahoma City this season.

“He’s just very even-keeled emotionally,” Barbary said. “Just a real pro in how he approaches his work every day.”

Pages’ promotion Tuesday might have been a byproduct of the lack of results the Dodgers have received from their outfielders so far, as it was of Pages’ own dominant performance in the minors to start this season.

Entering Tuesday, center fielders James Outman and Kiké Hernández were both batting a shade below .190. Utility outfielder Chris Taylor was off to a woeful one for 33 start that included 17 strikeouts. Right fielder Jason Heyward was still nursing a back soreness that has kept him on the injured list the last two weeks.

Teoscar Hernández aside, the position group was becoming an early trouble spot for a top-heavy Dodgers lineup.

And with Heyward’s return date still unclear — the veteran is battling discomfort in his back, and will also need a rehabilitation assignment before rejoining the team — the club decided it was time to look elsewhere for an offensive jolt.

Enter Pages, who probably will spend at least a couple of weeks on the Dodgers roster, according to manager Dave Roberts.

“He’s a complete ballplayer,” Roberts said. “The head is good. The mechanics are good. He’s physical. So we just feel like, with the runway he’s gonna be given, it’s a great opportunity.”

Though Pages was back to full baseball activity this winter — he was able to “go through a fairly normal offseason,” general manager Brandon Gomes said in December, “and not have to rush anything getting into his hitting routine” — the Dodgers cautioned that it might take time for the 6-foot, 212-pound outfielder, ranked as the club’s No. 3 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, to regain full strength.

“Coming off surgery, I think we don’t want to put that pressure on him,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said during the offseason. “[We want for] him to come into spring training and just be able to get live at-bats and get his legs under him again.”

By the end of spring training, though, expectations had quickly changed.

After going eight for 17 with two home runs in Cactus League play, Pages was singled out by Roberts last month as one of the club’s top bright spots in camp.

“I think, given what he went through last year with the shoulder surgery and how he performed this spring, that’s been the biggest pleasant surprise,” Roberts said.

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When the Dodgers departed for their season-opening trip to South Korea, Pages stayed back and continued to impress minor league staff during backfield games.

“I really didn’t know what to expect this spring,” Barbary said. “But he looked great physically. Guys were amazed.”

Pages kept making a strong impression upon opening the season in triple A.

He went just two for 11 in a season-opening series in Tacoma, but “could’ve had three or four home runs,” Barbary said, if not for the soggy late-spring conditions in the area.

When OKC returned from the trip, Pages’ play took off. Over his last 11 games, he batted .438 (21 for 48) with three doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs. By the end of play Monday, his 1.146 on-base-plus-slugging percentage was third best in the Pacific Coast League.

“When I started my career outside of Cuba, my dream was to get to this level," said Pages, who was first signed by the Dodgers as an international amateur in 2017. "Now that I’m here, I feel very happy and I just want to give the best of me and be myself every day.”

About the only part of Pages’ second triple-A stint that wasn’t seamless? The way he received word of his MLB call-up Monday.

Barbary was informed by club officials of Pages’ impending promotion around 9:30 p.m. local time in Oklahoma City. His job was to call Pages, inform him of the move and let him know he was booked for a Tuesday morning flight to Los Angeles.

However, with Oklahoma City off on Monday, Pages was already in bed by the time Barbary reached out. Barbary’s first couple of calls and texts to Pages went unanswered. So did a message to Pages’ wife, whose contact information Barbary got from a coach in double-A Tulsa.

By the time Barbary finished watching the Dodgers’ series-opening loss to the Nationals, it was after midnight local time.

“Has he answered yet?” Barbary’s wife asked.

“Nope,” Barbary answered with a laugh.

Finally, after one last text from Barbary around 12:35 a.m. — this time, telling Pages outright he was being called up and had a flight in the morning — Pages awoke in the wee hours of the morning, learning suddenly his MLB dreams were about to be realized.

“It was a little stressful,” Barbary said by phone Tuesday. "But we got it done, got him to L.A. And he's just ready to get to work."

Before departing Oklahoma City, Pages first called his mom, Juana Maria, who along with the rest of his family will be watching his debut Tuesday night on TV from Cuba.

"I felt like I was giving her the gift that she's always wanted," he said of the conversation. "She started waking up everyone that lives in our neighborhood [in Cuba], and obviously she did cry. But I told her to stay calm, because we’re finally in the big leagues, which is where she’s always wanted me to be.”

Pages then rushed over to the Oklahoma City stadium, where on-site staff unlocked the gates so he could quickly pack a travel bag, before heading to the airport — embarking on a new chapter in his career that came sooner than anyone anticipated.

“There’s a lot of hitters that hurt that lead arm and it affects their swing considerably,” Roberts said. “So for him to rebound speaks, obviously, to how much commitment he put into the rehab process. He’s in great shape, as good of shape as he’s ever been in. And he put in a lot of work. So it’s a pleasant surprise.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.