There was a time in Joc Pederson’s life, at least once, when he went through a legitimate hitting slump. Or so he claims.
It was last year, in triple A, not long after the All-Star break. The way Pederson remembers it, he couldn’t hit a thing for about two weeks.
“I struck out about every time,” he said.
Pederson sat for the first six innings Wednesday, a 4-3 Dodgers win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Manager Don Mattingly said he wanted to capitalize on Thursday’s day off to get Pederson extra rest.
Through 78 games in his first full season in the big leagues, Pederson is hitting .243. He has 48 runs batted in and his 20 home runs is the third-best total for a National League rookie at this point of a season.
He did all that despite his bat snoozing through parts of June. The worst month of Pederson’s season looked like this: he batted .222 and struck out 35 times. He also hit seven home runs and drove in 14 runs.
Even when Pederson has struggled, he still has produced. Before Monday, it could be argued that Pederson was experiencing a micro-slump. In the previous week, he had only three hits, plus a home run and five walks. Then he hit a 461-foot home run Monday and had two singles Tuesday.
Pederson has shown an ability to recover quickly. Only once has he been hitless for more than two consecutive games.
“I think we’ve seen him go through a couple little sections,” Mattingly said. “You can see when he gets frustrated that he’s not getting it done.”
Yet, even the minor league slump Pederson referenced wasn’t quite as bad as he recalled. It was, as he claimed, his worst stretch of the season. He also did strike out frequently — eight times in 12 at-bats.
It did not, however, last two weeks. It lasted about three games. By the end of the slump, Pederson said he settled on a plan: don’t strike out anymore.
On the fourth day, he hit a home run.
Pederson’s consistency is perplexing, considering how violently he swings. This season, he has gained a reputation for sticking to three outcomes at the plate: a strikeout, a walk or a home run. He is on pace for more than 40 home runs, well more than 100 walks and the most strikeouts in Dodgers history. In that category, he has a shot at the ignominious mark of 200 strikeouts, a level reached by only four batters in history.
“You don’t have to worry about his power,” Mattingly said, chuckling. “It’s just making contact.”
So how has Pederson kept steady?
Pederson credited teammates and coaches, and one in particular has been particularly useful. Third baseman Justin Turner, Pederson said, shares a similar swing, mechanically. When Turner makes adjustments to a pitcher, he passes them along to Pederson.
And when Pederson connects, the ball explodes like a round of ammunition. He has the second-highest exit velocity in the major leagues.
“I don’t think he’s necessarily swinging for homers,” Mattingly said. “I just think that’s his swing.”
Still, Mattingly said, Pederson has worked through rough sections. A few times this season, he said, Pederson’s batting average has bounced down and up by about 30 points.
Pederson’s early absence Wednesday wasn’t felt because his replacement in center field and atop the order, Enrique Hernandez, filled in capably. He had a single, a double and a triple, and scored two runs.
“We’re in first place so I can be myself, I can have as much energy as I have every day and I can have as much fun as I do,” Hernandez said.
The Dodgers led for all nine innings. Pederson got one at-bat, a groundout.
The rookie is often guarded with the media, and he can speak in cliches. But his he has a Zen-like philosophy on hitting.
“You don’t just go from raking to not raking,” he said.