Hernández: Freddie Freeman can still be great. He just has to do more to tap into it

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA May 20, 2024- Dodgers Freddie Freeman hits a grand slam against the Diamondbacks in the third inning at Dodgers Stadium Monday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

This was how it used to be.

The baseball looking like a golf ball as it disappeared into the night sky. The ball clearing the powder-blue wall. The entire stadium chanting his name: “Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!”

Freddie Freeman smiled.

“It’s always nice,” Freeman said.

Especially now.

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His grand slam on Monday night in a 6-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium offered him a reprieve from two months in which he’s felt as if he’s “been treading water.”

Freeman hasn’t been bad, hitting .298 through the Dodgers’ first 50 games.

But he hasn’t been great either, making him almost a forgotten man in a lineup that includes Shohei Ohtani and Mookie Betts. The homer was only his fifth of the season.

“Still waiting for the really, really hot streak,” Freeman said.

He believes he still has that in him, even though he might have to do more these days to get that out.

“I’m 34,” Freeman said. "Thirty-five at the end of the year.

“If I’m going to do the same thing I did at 25 and expect the same thing, that’s just not smart.”

Which is why Freeman said he recently met with player performance coach Brandon McDaniel and trainer Thomas Albert to discuss what he could do “to be me as long as I can.”

On the Dodgers’ trip to San Diego last week, Freeman started incorporating medicine-ball and resistance-band exercises into a pregame routine that includes defensive drills with third base coach Dino Ebel.

“I’m just trying to figure out how we can keep this going,” he said.

Freeman said he isn’t doing this because he thinks he’s in physical decline. He said he’s doing this to delay any future decline.

But when he inevitably slows down at some point, will he be able to distinguish that from a normal slump?

“I never thought of that,” Freeman said. “Hopefully, I don’t have to, ever.”

He laughed.

He could afford to chuckle, as the Dodgers were 33-17 and held an eight-game lead over the second-place San Diego Padres in the National League West.

At the same time, Freeman also acknowledged this season has tested his patience.

“Obviously, I haven’t played the way I expect myself to play,” he said. “Anybody can put expectations on you, but I’m going to put more on me than anybody else combined.”

Freddie Freeman rounds first base after hitting a grand slam.
Freddie Freeman rounds first base after hitting a grand slam Monday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Freeman said he’s been cutting his swing — basically, opening up his front hip too much, altering his swing path.

“Feels like September of last year,” he said.

Freeman batted .262 over his final 17 games last season. He went just one for 10 in a NL Division Series in which the Dodgers were swept by the Diamondbacks.

“The last couple of weeks have been more positive, like through-the-baseball swings,” Freeman said.

He said he was even encouraged by his first at-bat on Monday in which he grounded into an inning-ending double play.

“Sinker in, I was able to stay inside of it,” he said. “Even though it’s an out, there’s little wins inside those that create things later in the game.”

That came in the third inning.

With the bases loaded, Freeman launched a low fastball by Slade Cecconi over the Bank of America sign in right-center field.

“To see one on a heater go through right-center, center, that’s kind of what I’ve been fighting for this season,” he said.

Freeman collected another hit in the eighth inning, a single to center.

When the game was over, he ranked fourth on the team in batting average and second in doubles (13). He was tied for fifth in home runs and fourth in runs batted in (29).

“Looking at the numbers and they’re OK,” Freeman said with a shrug.

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Manager Dave Roberts didn’t sound overly concerned either.

‘I think the thing about Freddie is the consistent way he goes about things,” Roberts said. “Good or bad, he shows up and competes every day. So you know every night, he’s going to give you four or five good at-bats.

“Even when he’s a guy who’s searching, as he’s been, he’s still an elite hitter.”

Even with a so-so Freeman, the Dodgers are one of the best teams in the league. Even with a so-so Freeman, they are the highest-scoring team in baseball.

If Freeman can do what he thinks he can still do, they can be more than that. They can be historic.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.