Column: Don’t mind the batting average, Corey Seager is back
Starting with the sudden and shocking decline of Kenley Jansen, the first three weeks of the regular season have revealed a number of serious concerns for the Dodgers.
Corey Seager isn’t one of them. He never was.
Seager will hit.
Informed Wednesday afternoon of his impending breakout, Seager smiled and replied, “Let’s hope, right?”
And, like that, Seager was back to spraying baseballs around the outfield, going four for five with two doubles, a walk and three runs batted in several hours later in a 13-4 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Then again, it’s not as if decades of scouting experience were required to forecast what would happen. There’s a reason the All-Star shortstop remained entrenched as the team’s No. 2 hitter, even though he entered the series finale at Petco Park with a .212 average and only two extra-base hits.
Seager’s hitting is about as close to a guarantee as there is in baseball, sort of like how Clayton Kershaw will outwork everyone or Mike Trout will be an MVP candidate.
Well, provided Seager is healthy, which he said he was.
Seager said the back problems that sidelined him for the National League Championship Series last year are behind him.
The left-handed-hitting Seager’s right elbow still requires maintenance.
“It’s just kind of a stiff feeling,” he said. “It takes me a while to just get loose, basically. So it’s a lot of [pregame] work and stuff like that.”
Some scouts from rival organizations have speculated something is physically wrong with Seager, but the player pushed back against the idea his swing was compromised by efforts to protect his elbow.
“I never felt anything when I swung, even last year,” Seager said. “I mean, to my best knowledge, I would say, no, I’m not compensating. But your body’s a smart thing. You never know if you’re doing it without knowing, but if I was going to give you an answer, it would be no.”
Then again, if he was actually hurt, he wouldn’t admit it, would he?
“Well, I mean, yeah,” he said. He paused for a second and added, “I, honestly, though, don’t think I’m compensating for it.”
Seager described his winter as abnormal, and not only because he had to rehabilitate his injuries. He was affected by the loss to the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series.
“It took me longer to get out of baseball mode than it normally does,” he said. “Whether it was because you played long or those last games were so intense, whatever reason it was, trying to get over it, it definitely took me longer to settle down and relax. You were, not on edge, but you were still needing to do something, wanting to do something, feeling like you needed to concentrate on something.”
Seager recalled reading something Kershaw told reporters in spring training: “I don’t really take something and move on. I just kind of absorb it.”
Seager laughed and said, “I wish he would have said that the day after the World Series. That, for sure, would have helped me a lot more in the offseason.”
He returned for his third major league season this year to find the continued development of a pattern he started noticing last season. Now that he had a reputation as being especially dangerous against first-pitch fastballs, opposing pitchers were throwing him more breaking balls early in counts.
“It just goes back to that cat-and-mouse game,” he said. “Once you start doing something and have success, they’re obviously not going to keep doing it. It’s learning what they’re doing and learning what each team is going to do.”
Manager Dave Roberts said he observed an improvement in Seager’s approach.
“I think if you can look back at maybe the first week, there was some out-of-zone chase,” Roberts said.
Roberts attributed his inability to raise his average to misfortune.
“A lot of hard contact,” Roberts said. “He’s been sort of unlucky. I just really like his at-bats. He’ll be fine.”
There are changes in-house as well, the most notable being the absence of Shawn Wooten, the former assistant hitting coach now with the Angels. Seager and Wooten had worked closely for years.
The Dodgers parted ways with Wooten over the winter, but Seager didn’t. Seager remained in contact with the instructor and even traveled to the instructor’s training facility in Minnesota.
“In spring training, he was pretty much told he wasn’t allowed to work outside the organization,” Seager said. “I still stay in contact with him, just talking about family and stuff like that. Can’t talk about swings. I don’t want to get him in trouble over there.”
The Dodgers’ decision to let go of Wooten was puzzling, reminiscent of when the franchise traded Kershaw’s catcher of choice, A.J. Ellis, in 2016. Unlike Ellis, Wooten didn’t take up space on the 40-man roster. Why upset a franchise cornerstone over something relatively minor?
“There were a few of us that liked working with him, but they decided to go in a different direction,” Seager said, diplomatically.
Of course, that won’t prevent Seager from hitting. If he is healthy, he will hit. Wednesday was only the start.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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