Hard-hitting Edwin Rios pushing to make the Dodgers’ opening day roster
At times last year, flights between Oklahoma City and Los Angeles seemed more like the Edwin Rios Express.
The Dodgers utility man was called up and optioned back down to the club’s triple-A affiliate three times during the second half of 2019, eventually missing out on the postseason roster despite his four home runs and a 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in only 47 Dodgers at-bats.
But this season’s expanded roster rules and introduction of a National League designated hitter have renewed Rios’ chances of breaking camp in the big leagues — and perhaps staying there long-term too.
Though manager Dave Roberts expects to rotate the DH role among several players and reserve most of the extra roster spots (30-man opening day rosters eventually will be trimmed to 26 by late August) for bullpen arms, Rios is forcing his way into serious consideration with the season opener 10 days away.
Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen says he was unable to make the start of training camp after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“Even as we were going to break [in spring training] with 26, he was a real big part of the conversation,” Roberts said. “That’s a credit to Edwin. And now you’re talking about an expanded roster.”
After spending the sport’s three-month shutdown at home in Florida, swinging largely off a tee while training with his father, Edwin Sr., a former pro player in Puerto Rico, Rios has already launched three home runs and flashed an improved glove at third base during the Dodgers’ intrasquad scrimmages.
“At the end of the day,” Rios, 26, said, “I’m going to have to perform if I want to be up here with the guys.”
So far, so good.
“[His] defense continued to get better, the at-bat quality, as we’ve seen recently, has continued to get better,” Roberts said. “I’m really proud of Edwin.”
Bellinger feels comfy
Roberts said Cody Bellinger’s recent swing changes were a response not only to the outfielder’s offensive regression late last season, but also discomfort he felt this spring.
“From the second half [of 2019], throughout the winter, throughout spring training, he never felt really comfortable with his swing,” Roberts said of the reigning National League MVP. “That was the impetus to the swing change. Obviously, the player, his mind-set, psyche, matters most.”
Last week, Bellinger described the swing changes as “small things” designed to make him more consistent after he hit .257 in his final 60 games last season. Roberts understood Bellinger’s decision.
“He feels really comfortable where he’s at mechanically,” Roberts said. “We haven’t seen the results yet, not that the results matter right now. It’s an individual feel thing. For me, as long as he has confidence in it and is conferring and talking through things with the hitting [staff], I’m optimistic.”
Roberts hinted at possibly using baserunning specialist Terrance Gore this season, particularly during extra innings that will begin with a runner at second base. Though Gore, who has 40 stolen bases in 100 career games, isn’t currently in Dodgers camp, Roberts said “something certainly could happen in the next few days.” … With the minor league season canceled, Oklahoma City reduced its full-time staff by 70% through furloughs and layoffs.
Times staff writer Jorge Castillo contributed to this report.
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