Kiké Hernández finally feels strong after Dodgers doctor solves mystery health issue

The Dodgers' Kiké Hernández celebrates after doubling during a spring training game against the Cleveland Guardians

One day, the pain would be in his groin. The next day it would be in his abdomen. Then it would shift to his hips or his adductors or his quadriceps.

For much of the last two seasons, Kiké Hernández played through discomfort that ranged from annoying to excruciating, the utility man sitting out about one-third of the 2022 season with Boston because of injuries and gritting through one of the worst seasons of his career for the Red Sox and Dodgers in 2023.

But with his trade back to Los Angeles last summer came some relief in the form of a diagnosis that multiple MRI tests failed to reveal: Hernández, it turned out, had been playing with not one but two sports hernias, and he underwent surgery to repair them on Oct. 24 with Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

“It was probably the first time ever I've been excited that somebody told me I needed surgery,” said Hernández, a 10-year veteran who signed a one-year, $4-million deal with the Dodgers on Feb. 26.

“It was frustrating because I was having a lot of pain, but the MRIs were clean. It wasn’t until I got to Philly that Dr. Meyers was like, ‘Yeah, these hernias don’t really show up in the MRI, and you have to know what you’re looking at to be able to tell.’ ”

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Hernández, 32, credits Dr. Keith Pyne, a medical adviser to the Dodgers, with making an initial diagnosis.

“He said all the symptoms I was having are pointing to a sports hernia,” Hernández said, “because I had pain in different places every single day.”

Given a full three months over the winter to recover and another month of baseball activities before he signed, Hernández believes he will be much better positioned to be an impact player this season.

“The last few years, I haven’t been myself, and it showed in the numbers,” Hernández said. “But I feel great, I feel strong, I feel I’m where I need to be to put myself in the best position to help the team in whatever capacity it needs. Now, it’s just about getting back into the rhythm of baseball because I signed late.”

Hernández spent six years (2015-20) with the Dodgers, slugging three homers in the 2017 National League Championship Series Game 5 clincher over the Chicago Cubs and helping them reach the World Series in 2018 and win it in pandemic-shortened 2020, before signing a two-year, $14-million deal with the Red Sox.

He had a strong 2021, batting .250 with a .786 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 20 homers and 60 RBIs in 134 games to help Boston make a surprise run to the American League Championship Series, but a series of hip and core muscle injuries limited him to 93 games in 2022, when he hit just .222 with a .629 OPS, six homers and 45 RBIs.

Dodgers second baseman Kiké Hernández warms up before a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants

Though his scans appeared clean entering last year, the injuries persisted for Hernández, who hit .222 with a .599 OPS, six homers and 31 RBIs in 86 games for Boston before being traded to the Dodgers for two prospects on July 25.

Hernández’s production improved a bit in Los Angeles, where he hit .262 with a .731 OPS, five homers and 30 RBIs in 54 games, but his overall numbers for the season — a .237 average, .646 OPS, 11 homers and 61 RBIs in 140 games — were well below par for him, and he never really felt like himself.

“I basically had no control over my body,” Hernández said. “My mechanics offensively we're not great. I made some adjustments after I got to L,A, that helped me get by, but they still weren't where I wanted.”

Hernández, who can play all four infield spots and three outfield spots, said he struggled even more defensively because he couldn’t really use his legs to get his normal jumps on the ball, and he had trouble planting his back leg and foot to make the long throw to first base from the shortstop hole or from behind the bag while playing second base.

“I've never really struggled defensively, so that was new to me,” Hernández said. “It took a little bit of a different toll mentally because we can all handle failure at the plate, but when I've been as good as I have throughout my career defensively, and it's not until 10 years in big leagues that you start struggling like that, you start questioning yourself.”

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Hernández said his wife, Mariana Vicente, served “as a psychologist,” and he even hired a mental skills coach to work through some of his struggles last season.

“I kept getting MRIs, and people were saying I was fine, so I was like, ‘All right, you just need to accept it, embrace it and play through pain and hope for the best,’ ” Hernández said. “Obviously, my performance suffered, but at least I was able to stay on the field all year long and not go on the [injured list].

“If it wasn't for my wife and my mental skills coach, last year would have been a lot harder than it already was. But I'm just glad that it's over with and I get to start with a new slate and a new year with somewhat new body parts.”

Hernández has played only four Cactus League games this spring, but he already is feeling the benefits of his surgery, both on the field and in the weight room, where he’s been “able to start lifting heavy again and work out the way I want to,” he said. The Dodgers also are seeing the benefits of Hernández’s surgery.

“He looks just more free and easy,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Last year, he kept [his injuries] under wraps quite a bit, and a lot of stuff has come out on the past injuries. But he looks great. He's moving really well. I'm still mindful of his workload going into the season, but he's moving like Kiké of old.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.