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Dodgers batters keeping an eye on background behind pitcher

Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy warms up during practice at Dodger Stadium on July 3.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Max Muncy addressed reporters in a video conference call Wednesday with his left ring finger wrapped. He hasn’t been on the field with the Dodgers since Sunday, but his reason, unlike that of the 10 teammates the Dodgers had previously confirmed absent from training camp, was disclosed.

He didn’t test positive for the coronavirus and wasn’t contemplating whether to not play this season. His absence was for an old-school baseball reason: He got hit by a pitch in an intrasquad game Sunday.

Muncy said the pain continued Wednesday and he hasn’t gripped a bat since the incident, but he insisted he would’ve played if it had been a regular-season game. Muncy emphasized he would be ready for opening day, scheduled for July 23 against the San Francisco Giants.

But another matter, one that could affect the Dodgers when real games start, became apparent when Muncy was plunked: The new batter’s eye background at Dodger Stadium is a problem for hitters.

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As Muncy recalled it, he never saw the pitch that hit him. The ball ran up and in, and bounced off the finger, before he could move out of the way.

Pitchers Tony Gonsolin and Scott Alexander and catcher Keibert Ruiz join four other Dodgers who have not participated in training camp without an explanation.

“I don’t know if I’ll comment too much on that, but it’s just something that we’ll have to get used to,” Muncy said. “It’s different than what we’ve had here. It’s just something to get used to. I will say I know pitchers are pretty happy about the batter’s eye out there.”

The batter’s eye, or area beyond the center-field wall, at Dodger Stadium was changed as a result of renovations completed over the offseason. The project cost ownership $100 million. It features a plaza with food stands, a beer garden, two bars and a children’s play area.

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The speaker tower was replaced with a new sound system. Elevators and bridges were constructed to connect the outfield pavilions with the rest of the ballpark, giving fans the ability to walk around the entire stadium for the first time. Some fans, when they’re allowed inside, will be able to watch games from above the batter’s eye.

Before the renovation, the batter’s eye was solid black with the speaker tower sticking out. Black covered the two bottom sections of the pavilion seats on both sides. The black background was also higher.

Now, a small section of those previously covered pavilion seats — about a third — are painted black. Players have encountered trouble picking up the baseball — particularly from pitchers who release the ball from lower arm slots. Not having fans in those yellow seats — the plan to at least start the season — will exacerbate the problem for batters once the 60-game season starts.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said position players besides Muncy have expressed concerns about the batter’s eye. This week, Will Smith, who picks up baseballs from the vantage point both as a hitter and a catcher, praised the renovation but admitted the batter’s eye could be “a little higher and wider.”

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Nichol Whiteman has engaged in conversations on race with people around her for the first time, becoming more than the successful CEO of the Dodgers Foundation.

Roberts said he believes the organization would modify the batter’s eye to ensure player safety. It has two weeks from Thursday to decide before the games matter.

“For Max to say he couldn’t see the ball because of the background,” Roberts said, “that’s a little unsettling.”

SHORT HOPS

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Tony Gonsolin joined the Dodgers for the first time since players reported to training camp July 1. The Dodgers didn’t share the reason for the right-handed pitcher’s absence. His return left the Dodgers without at least nine players for undisclosed reasons. … Three minor leaguers — right-hander Edwin Uceta and outfielders Zach Reks and Cody Thomas — were added to the list of undisclosed absences Tuesday. Roberts said Wednesday he could not divulge the reason for the absences. … Right-hander AJ Ramos joined the Dodgers on Tuesday and threw a 30-pitch bullpen session, according to Roberts. Ramos, a 2016 All-Star, signed a minor league contract last week.


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