If there’s a secret to his success against one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, Enrique Hernandez is not about to share it, not when the Dodgers second baseman is knocking Madison Bumgarner around the yard as if the San Francisco Giants ace was a batting-practice pitcher.
“I got nothing for you, man,” Hernandez said with an impish grin after notching two singles and an RBI against Bumgarner and turning a tough double play to end Tuesday night’s 6-5 victory over the Giants in Dodger Stadium. “You can’t really over-think it.”
Hernandez entered with a .487 average (19 for 39), four homers, five doubles and eight RBIs against Bumgarner. By the time Bumgarner departed after six innings, Hernandez had somehow improved to .500 (21 for 42) with nine RBIs against him.
The right-handed-hitting Hernandez has always hit left-handers well — he entered Tuesday with a career .268 average, .848 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage, 28 homers and 73 RBIs against lefties and a .223 average with a .626 OPS, 23 homers and 74 RBIs against right-handers.
But Bumgarner is no ordinary lefty. He’s a four-time National League All-Star and 2014 National League championship series and World Series most valuable player who entered Tuesday with a 110-84 record and 3.03 ERA in 11 big-league seasons.
“A lot of it is coincidence,” said Hernandez, who is batting .400 (eight for 20) with two homers and five RBIs through six games. “It seems like every time he comes to pitch against us, I’m doing pretty well at the plate at that moment and feeling pretty comfortable.
“You can’t try to overanalyze it that much because he’s in my division. I may face him four or five more times this year and for a few more years. There’s a lot more at-bats in there against him. Yeah, you know the history, but that can easily change in only one game. So just try to go out there and have good at-bats.”
Hernandez singled to left field to lead off the fifth inning but was stranded when Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager flied to left and A.J. Pollock grounded out.
Asked if he had any explanation for why Hernandez hits Bumgarner so well, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “No, because he’s one of the best in the game, Bum is. And even when you look back three, four years, Kiké still had a lot of success against him.
“You see the cat-and-mouse game where Bum’s trying to figure out Kiké and figuring out how to get this guy out, so he goes first-pitch changeup, and Kiké is on it. So he’s got the cutter, the back-door slider, the changeup … it’s still a grind and a battle every time, I’m sure, for Kiké.”
The contributions of Hernandez, the super-utility-player-turned-regular-second-baseman, were not limited to offense. He also made three superb defensive plays in the first five innings to help keep the Giants off the board and closed the game by turning a double play that prevented San Francisco from tying the game.
The Giants had rallied for three runs off reliever Yimi Garcia and closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth, trimming a 6-2 lead to 6-5, and they had runners on first and third with one out for pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval.
The left-handed-hitting Sandoval ripped a grounder to the shortstop hole, but Corey Seager ranged quickly to his right to field the ball and fired to second.
Hernandez, who was shaded toward the second-base hole, got to the bag after a long run, stopped, caught Seager’s throw and, with Gerardo Parra bearing down on him, made a strong throw to first to complete the double play.
“That was a super tough double play,” Martin said. “In that situation, the pressure is building, the momentum is kind of shifting toward the other team, and if you don’t make that play, they tie the game. Sandoval is sneaky quick. I know he’s big but he can get down the line. They were just fundamentally sound and made the play. It was a good feed, a good exchange from Kiké, and the game is over.”
Hernandez made the play without fear or reservation and with no regard for the incoming spikes of the sliding Parra.
“If you can’t make a throw because the game is on the line, you have issues,” Hernandez said. “You should consider a different career. You can’t put yourself in that position where you think you can’t make a bad throw.”
Hernandez also turned a nice unassisted double play to end the second inning, ranging behind the second-base bag to back-hand Yangervis Solarte’s grounder before stepping on the bag and making an off-balance one-hop throw to first.
Shifted into shallow right field with the left-handed-hitting Brandon Belt up in the fourth, Hernandez robbed the San Francisco first baseman of a hit when he dived to his left to snag a one-hop smash and made a long throw to first, where pitcher Ryu covered the bag.
Hernandez, shifted to the shortstop side of the second-base bag, ended the fifth with a diving back-hand catch of Solarte’s line drive.
“He’s unbelievable,” Martin said of Hernandez’s defense at second. “He gets great reads. It always seems like he’s in the right spot. He’s a plus-plus defender.”