On a team with few everyday constants, Enrique Hernandez’s place on the Dodgers is the most fluid. He is not married to one position. His name slides up and down the batting order, depending on a few variables beyond his control. When he doesn’t start, he usually enters the game as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement, seemingly always supplying bursts of energy. The Dodgers pride themselves on their roster’s versatility. Hernandez epitomizes the trait.
But for the last month, Hernandez has been more than just a solid versatile piece. He’s been one of their best hitters as the Dodgers scrap for their playoff lives. Hernandez continued his recent tear in the Dodgers’ critical 3-1 win over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Friday, going three for four with two runs scored while starting in right field before moving to second base in the ninth inning as the Dodgers (89-71) remained a game behind the Colorado Rockies in the National League West and extended their lead on the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card vacancy to two games. A win on Saturday and the Dodgers clinch a playoff berth. The scenario is implausible without Hernandez.
“Kiké’s done so much for us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and tonight we needed those at-bats.”
Since Aug. 26, Hernandez is batting .351 with a .974 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 87 plate appearances across 27 games. He’s started at first base, second base, shortstop, center field and right field during the span. He got the start in right field on Friday, batting leadoff, because he’s one of the few Dodgers with a long track record of success facing Madison Bumgarner. The 27-year-old Hernandez had a .444 batting average, 1.376 OPS and four home runs in 37 career plate appearances against the left-handed ace before Friday.
“When you step in that box it doesn’t matter what’s happened,” Hernández said. “He’s still one of the best in the game. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past. If he makes a good pitch or he makes a mistake and I don’t take advantage of it, I probably won’t be successful.”
His comfort level opposite Bumgarner was evident immediately. Hernandez lined the game’s first pitch – a 90 mph fastball – to right field for a single. He singled on the second pitch of his second plate appearance in the third inning. Manny Machado later drove him in with a single through the left side to knot the game at one. Two innings later, Hernandez smashed a cutter up the middle for a one-out single after falling behind in the count. Turner then swatted a go-ahead two-run home run just over the wall in left-center field.
Defensively, Hernandez’s all-out missile from right field to third base in the fourth inning deterred Evan Longoria from advancing from first to third base on a single. The effort became vital a batter later when Hernandez misplayed Aramis Garcia’s bloop single to right field. A poor jump rendered a diving Hernandez late to the baseball, and it dropped beyond his outstretched glove. Longoria would’ve scored if he had been on third base. Instead, he advanced to third and was left stranded there after Hyun-Jin Ryu induced an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
The sequence kept the score tied. Two innings later, Hernandez and Turner partnered to seize a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The blue-clad fans at AT&T Park, a loud minority, roared in enemy territory. The Dodgers were on their way to a crucial victory behind their spark plug. Another one and they’re playoff-bound for the sixth straight year.