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Tested in more ways than one, Dodgers reliever Pedro Báez feels ready to flourish

Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez celebrates with catcher Will Smith.
Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Báez celebrates with catcher Will Smith after the final out against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 30 in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Pedro Báez drove from Arizona to Los Angeles in late June poised to report to summer camp without a hiccup. Since Major League Baseball suspended operations March 12, the Dodgers reliever had spent three-plus months training and throwing and avoiding COVID-19. He was ready.

But right before the first day of workouts he was ordered to quarantine, per a Los Angeles County mandate, because he had been exposed to an infected teammate. Then, while waiting to be cleared, he was notified that he had been exposed again. The quarantine order was reset.

As a result, Báez missed the Dodgers’ first 10 days of workouts despite never testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Five weeks later, Báez was placed on the injured list with a right groin strain. The 32-year-old right-hander tried pitching through the injury but struggled because he couldn’t surpass the discomfort. He is certain the extended quarantine and the injury are related.

“I had to start all over again,” Báez said in Spanish in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Everything all over again.”

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With Mookie Betts in MVP form and Cody Bellinger heating up, the Dodgers are in great shape heading into the second half of the 60-game season.

Speaking with a media member for the first time since the Dodgers reconvened for the 60-game campaign, Báez explained the groin injury began once the season started. The problem limited his ability to push off his back leg during his delivery. That forced him to rely more on his arm, which produced a dip in velocity.

“I wanted to continue forward, continue pitching, because in the moment I didn’t think much of it,” Báez said. “I thought it was just something you feel in the moment, something small.”

Báez pitched in 11 games before landing on the injured list last Thursday. He allowed five runs with eight strikeouts to five walks across 11 1/3 innings. But the red flag was on the radar gun. Báez’s fastball averaged 94.5 mph — 1.5 mph lower than the 96 mph the pitch averaged in 2019.

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“It’s the base and when the base isn’t good, I can’t throw as hard,” Báez said. “That was the problem.”

Báez said the discomfort has subsided. He stayed back in Los Angeles to continue the rehab while the team travels to San Francisco and Texas through the weekend. He said he recently resumed running and throwing.

For two weeks, while he waited to get the green light to report to camp, Báez couldn’t leave his apartment in Los Angeles. He didn’t train. He didn’t throw. He was frustrated.

On Jackie Robinson Day, MLB should pay tribute to Robinson, the radical activist, instead of the nonthreatening Jackie it usually celebrates.

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“I think I’ve been tested more than any other baseball player,” Báez said. “And all of them have been negative. They would give them to me daily and all of them were negative.”

The goal now is to return 100% for the regular season’s final stretch and the playoffs before hitting free agency for the first time in his career. Báez serves a crucial role in the Dodgers’ bullpen, one he earned with his metronomic consistency, posting a 3.06 ERA in 348 appearances since breaking into the majors in 2014. Regaining his usual velocity is vital. He’s confident that won’t be a problem.

“The important thing right now is to get healthy,” Báez said, “and finish strong.”


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