Trayce Thompson started in center field and batted eighth for the Oakland Athletics at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night. It was difficult for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to look at him as an enemy combatant.
“I look back at all the guys I’ve been around, and he’s at the top as far as character,” Roberts said. “So whatever uniform he’s in, I’ll be rooting for him.”
Roberts’ fondness for Thompson must have left him a little conflicted in the sixth inning, though, as Thompson leaped above the wall to rob pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig of a two-run homer and preserve Oakland’s 9-4 lead.
Thompson, 27, is trying to resuscitate a once-promising career that was derailed by a back fracture in 2016. He hit 13 homers with a .738 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 80 games for the Dodgers before the All-Star break in 2016, batting in the third, fourth or fifth spots in 34 games.
“I feel like I absolutely can get back to being that player,” Thompson said. “That fueled me this offseason. It fuels me every day. I feel like I’m still that guy. I just have to go out there and prove it. To give other people credit, I didn’t show that I was that guy last year.”
Thompson, the brother of Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson, spent the second half of 2016 and the following winter rehabilitating from his injury, which prevented him from working out as rigorously as he is used to.
It showed in 2017. Thompson hit .122 with a .483 OPS, one homer and two RBIs in 27 games for the Dodgers. He wasn’t much better at triple-A Oklahoma City, batting .212 with a .632 OPS, nine homers and 33 RBIs in 95 games.
Thompson hit .255 with one homer in 20 spring training games, but with three right-handed-hitting outfielders — Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp — ahead of him, there was no room for him on the roster at the end of camp.
Thompson was designated for assignment by the Dodgers, claimed by the New York Yankees on April 3 and, two days later, claimed by the A’s.
“I felt like the writing was on the wall, so I kind of anticipated it,” Thompson said. “It’s weird to be on this side, in this stadium wearing different colors … but here we are.”
Puig was given a scheduled day off Wednesday night, but the struggling right fielder did not take the afternoon off. He worked with batting coach Turner Ward in an effort to iron out a swing that produced a .209 average, .511 OPS, no homers and two RBIs in the first 10 games.
“The thing he combats all the time is being rotational in his swing,” Roberts said. “So to have his direction through the big part of the field is when he’s at his best. That brings contact point and setup into play. Those are some of the things he and Turner were working on.”
Reliever Yimi Garcia, who missed all of last season recovering from elbow surgery and was limited by a biceps injury to nine games in 2016, will begin a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City this week.
In his last full season with the Dodgers, the right-hander went 3-5 with a 3.34 ERA in 59 games in 2015, striking out 68 and walking 10 in 56 2/3 innings.
Third baseman Justin Turner (fractured left wrist) ran the bases and tracked pitches in the cage without a bat Wednesday. Roberts said he is “very close” to swinging a bat.