The loose hips that give Kiké Hernández the mobility and agility to play seven field positions in his super utility role for the Dodgers do not always serve him well in the batter’s box.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing [to have] in baseball, but in my case, it’s like my own enemy,” Hernández said. “My front hip [was] flying open.”
Hernández said he was “messing around” with different swing mechanics on the workout day before the National League division series last October when something clicked, an adjustment that better synchronized his upper body with his legs. He noticed an immediate difference when he “started hitting the ball really far” in batting practice.
Buoyed by a strong performance in a five-game playoff loss to the Washington Nationals, when he went three for seven (.429) with a homer, a double and three RBIs in three games, Hernández continued to refine his swing with Dodgers hitting coach Brant Brown in Arizona over the winter.
The early spring training returns are promising. Hernández has two homers in 11 at-bats over his first four games, including a prodigious three-run blast to left field on a changeup by Jefry Rodriguez in the first inning of Thursday’s 6-5 exhibition victory over the Cleveland Indians.
“It was something to get my lower half in a better position to be more efficient and more direct to the ball with the upper half,” Hernández said. “This winter was about refining that and getting consistent enough with the moves to the point where I didn’t have to think about that when I got to the plate. It was see the ball, hit the ball.”
Hernández, who hit .237 with a .715 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 17 homers and 64 RBIs in 130 games last season, said he’s in a better spot to recognize pitches earlier, to be on time for the fastball and adjust to the breaking ball.
Manager Dave Roberts said the adjustment could help Hernández do more damage against right-handed pitchers. Hernández has a career .266 average, .829 OPS, 35 homers and 94 RBIs in 738 at-bats against left-handers and a .221 average, .672 OPS, 31 homers and 113 RBIs in 914 at-bats against right-handers.
“I don’t know exactly what he did with the hips, but he worked on it all winter, our hitting guys are on board with what he’s doing, and he’s done a good job of taking it into the spring,” Roberts said. “In his words, gives him a better chance against lefties and righties, and to hit different pitches in different locations.”