How Dodgers' eight-home run outburst portends more than just power

Tim BrownMLB columnist
Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9414/" data-ylk="slk:Joc Pederson">Joc Pederson</a> (31) hit one of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/la-dodgers/" data-ylk="slk:Dodgers">Dodgers</a>' eight home runs on opening day against the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/arizona/" data-ylk="slk:Diamondbacks">Diamondbacks</a>. (Getty)
Joc Pederson (31) hit one of the Dodgers' eight home runs on opening day against the Diamondbacks. (Getty)

LOS ANGELES — The fourth true outcome is weary arms.

Two hours and 49 minutes into the 2019 season (and the Arizona Diamondbacks batted last), the Los Angeles Dodgers have eight home runs. Thirty-five at-bats in. Nearly four trips around the batting order in. One long sigh from the purists in, that’s eight home runs, a double, three singles and a handful of bemused well-thens.

The hitting coach – Robert Van Scoyoc – was in a big-league uniform on a big-league field in a real big-league game for not quite three hours.

Eight home runs.

“Downhill from here for Robert,” manager Dave Roberts said with a grin.

The shortstop, Corey Seager, had been 11 months between at-bats, and in that time endured Tommy John and hip surgeries and a dairy-free diet.

One home run.

The left fielder, Joc Pederson, retook his career a year ago by reworking his swing and, come October, became one of their tougher outs.

Two home runs.

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The second baseman, Kiké Hernández, hit 28 home runs across 938 plate appearances in his first four big-league seasons, then 21 in about half of those last season.

Two home runs.

The first baseman, Max Muncy, was released by the Oakland A’s, scraped up by the Dodgers, and then the muscle-y young man was 15th in the 2018 MVP vote.

One home run.

The right fielder, Cody Bellinger, he of the long and sometimes accurate swing, of the soaring athletic bearing …

One home run.

The catcher, Austin Barnes, hit .205 last season and still had to rescue Yasmani Grandal in October.

One home run.

No team had ever hit eight on opening day. Reliever Matt Koch suffered through 4 1/3 innings in which he allowed four home runs and five runs. And even then, he out-pitched the starter, Zack Greinke. No Dodgers team has hit more than eight homers in a game, and the only one that also hit eight needed four from one man – Shawn Green.

A light breeze blew Thursday afternoon from the right-field foul pole to left field. The game began under a blue sky. An occasional cloud skidded over. The temperature was 69 degrees. Which is to say, not summer hot or El Nino windy or fifth-starter vulnerable. And, still, in the bleachers, so many balls landed they’d become not so much souvenirs as nuisances. (The Diamondbacks also hit two.)

“I don’t know if the balls are juiced or the ball was carrying today,” Hernandez considered. “But the ball was going far.”

They averaged 407 feet, from Muncy’s 399 to Pederson’s 420. They laid, end to end, nearly two-thirds of a mile. The men in the Dodgers’ dugout burned thousands of calories climbing the steps to greet the next man in, to tap his hand and attaboy his soul. They hit fastballs and changeups and curveballs that arrived without ambition. They hit three in the fourth inning. Then three more in the seventh inning. From Pederson in the sixth inning to Hernandez in the seventh, they hit four home runs in a span of seven batters.

And, lest this all appear a swing-from-the-back-leg-exercise/mirage, the Dodgers struck out three times, just three.

The explanation, from the Dodgers’ point of view, was that home runs were the byproduct of hard-earned at-bats borne of winning pitches and winning counts and jumping first Greinke’s and then Koch’s mistakes. This was the team that led the National League in home runs a year ago, and Greinke did allow a career-high 28 home runs a year ago, so home runs are bound to happen. Eight seemed excessive.

“We were wondering if it was the record,” Hernandez said. “Cool.”

Corey Seager looked good in his return and could spark another NL West title and deep postseason run. (Getty)
Corey Seager looked good in his return and could spark another NL West title and deep postseason run. (Getty)

The greater takeaway would be the prospect of a healthy return for Seager, the 24-year-old former Rookie of the Year and two-time All Star who played but 26 games last season. He arrived in spring training whole and leaner and seemingly eager to retake his place among the better players in the game. He made a handful of plays that would appear to have tested both his elbow and his hip, then afterward reported he’d not felt limited and, honestly, hadn’t given either previous ailment a thought.

“You look forward to this day for a while now,” said Seager, who’d probably rather not see a sling or a crutch again. “It was fun. We enjoyed it. We know it’s not always going to happen.”

Again and again he said, “It was nice feeling healthy,” which, generally, is the best part about opening day. That and all the home runs.

“I think he’s always gonna hit,” Pederson said of Seager. “Yeah, I think everything is a little different [with him.] His bat-to-ball, his swing, his consistency, everything. It’s why he bats .300 every year. It’s awesome to see. But it’s not that surprising.”

At the end of a long day of flags and introductions and songs and fly-overs, both pre-game and in-game, what the Dodgers had themselves was a single win, which, given recent seasons, they’ll know counts as, yes, a single win. They seek a seventh consecutive NL West title. They seek a first World Series title since before about anybody could remember. For that, they seek a little more momentum, one more great at-bat, one more slider on the black, one more foot of hustle. Over those six seasons, beginning in 2013, they had played 61 postseason games. They’d won 31 of them. Not enough important ones, turned out, but, still, 31.

And so eight home runs over a few hours would send them home happy, somewhat amused, kind of impressed. They’d say it was fun. They’d played well. The new hitting coach seemed to be working out. They’d survived a day without Clayton Kershaw. They’d go rest their weary arms.

Then they’d come back and play another baseball game.

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