Enrique Hernandez is at a pivotal point in his baseball career.
The super utility player known affectionately as "Kiké," is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and will become a free agent at the end of the season.
For five fun-filled seasons, Hernandez has been a valuable asset for the Boys in Blue. He's played eight different positions, including pitcher, and is a plus defender all over the field. His bat is streaky, but when he's on, he can hit with the best of them. Everyone remembers his Herculean performance in Game 5 of the 2017 National League Championship Series when he hit a franchise record three home runs against the Chicago Cubs to send the Dodgers to their first World Series since 1988.
In 2019, Hernandez was given an opportunity to be an everyday starter at second base. Unfortunately, Hernandez struggled in the first half of the season. By mid-June, 78 games into the season, Hernandez was batting .207/.279/.378 with 10 home runs and 33 RBI.
Simultaneously, a young prospect in the Dodgers farm system was tearing up the Pacific Coast League. Gavin Lux, the Dodgers No. 1 ranked prospect, and the 2019 Minor League Player of the Year, emerged as the Dodgers second baseman of the future. He was called up in September, and quickly made an impact, making the postseason roster and starting against right-handed pitchers in the NLDS against the Nationals
Now, Lux is expected to be the everyday starter at second base alongside Max Muncy. Hernandez, will return to his role as a super utility player and likely will be somewhere in the staring lineup against left-handed pitching.
Hernandez is off to a hot start to spring training, and currently is tied for the team lead in home runs and RBI. Hernandez hit another three-run home run against the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear on Thursday, and after the game credited a mechanical adjustment to his swing for his recent string of success at the plate.
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“I’m a guy with very loose hips, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in baseball, but in my case it’s like my enemy,” Hernández said. “My hip flies open. Now I get myself in a better position to be more efficient and direct to the ball with my upper half.
“It was literally the workout day before the playoffs that I said I was going to do this, and [I] started hitting the ball really far in BP and had good at-bats in the postseason. It was the quality of the at-bat, recognize pitches early and be on time. I was just messing around, and it turned out it worked.”
Hernandez said he first began tinkering with his swing during a workout the day before the2019 National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals last October. He said he noticed the difference immediately and that he "started hitting the ball really far" during batting practice.
Hernandez didn't have much time to perfect his swing adjustments. The Dodgers lost the series in five games, and their record-breaking season came to an abrupt and sudden end. However, Hernandez had enough success in the series that he knew he had something to build off of. The Puerto Rican batted .429 with a double, and three RBI in three appearances in the series.
"I hit in the offseason with Brownie [Brant Brown] and I started doing something new right before the playoffs," said Hernandez. "I had success. My body was in a good position, so we just worked on being consistent with those moves.
“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 position to recognize pitches early, and is more on time for the fastball and able to adjust to the breaking ball.
“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.”