Late-arriving Gavin Lux plays catch-up for Dodgers
Gavin Lux didn’t need much “runway,” as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts likes to say, when he arrived in the team’s clubhouse last September.
The former first-round pick was already flying sky-high at the time of his big-league debut, coming off a 113-game minor-league season in which he hit .347 and slugged 26 home runs.
His confidence carried over to a 23-game MLB stretch that helped him earn a spot on the Dodgers’ postseason roster, where he hit a home run in Game 1 of the NLDS, and elevated him to the top of almost every league-wide prospect list.
During this pandemic-shortened campaign, however, a lack of rhythm and routine brought Lux crashing back to Earth. Once considered the favorite for National League Rookie of the Year, the infielder missed the start of training camp for undisclosed reasons and surprisingly failed to make the opening day roster.
Instead, he spent the first month of the campaign at the team’s alternate training site and only made his season debut last week. Entering the Dodgers’ series opener against the Colorado Rockies on Friday night, won 10-6 by the Dodgers, he was just two for 17 on the season.
Nonetheless, Roberts hasn’t abandoned his trust in the 22-year-old, saying the left-handed hitter will get consistent playing time against pitchers of both hands over the season’s final stretch — giving Lux the chance to claim a prominent postseason role all over
Dodgers reliever Victor González almost gave up on playing in the major leagues. Support from his family and Julio Urías turned his career around.
“He deserves it, he needs it and we need to see it,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a day-to-day performance thing. I don’t want that in his mind. I want him to go out there and have clarity and play baseball.”
On Friday, Lux singled his first time up and walked in the seventh in the Dodgers’ game against the Rockies. Roberts said Lux is slated to start Saturday and Sunday as well.
“My swing feels like it’s in a lot better place,” Lux said during a pregame video call. “Maybe the results might not be showing up right now but I’ve been putting in a lot of work.”
Friday’s game between the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies was stopped briefly in the second inning after a drone was spotted above Dodger Stadium.
Lux’s main focus has been cleaning up swing problems that popped up during a condensed training camp. After almost every intrasquad game at the USC alternate site, Lux would send video of his swing in a group text with Dodgers hitting coaches Brant Brown, Robert Van Scoyoc and Aaron Bates.
Before long, the group figured out Lux’s lower body was out of sync. He was loading up too much and shifting forward at the point of contact.
“I was colliding into the ball a little bit,” Lux said. “So we were just trying to focus on almost thinking about ‘staying back.’ It’s an old-school term but that’s the thought that’s helped me a lot.”
Lux will finally get regular playing time to dial it in too.
After benefiting from three straight seasons of 500 minor-league plate appearances, he acknowledged the oft-shortened alternate site intrasquad scrimmages didn’t compare to competitive nine-inning games.
He noted that instructional time is squeezed into tighter windows as well because of safety precautions. And when he did finally get recalled late last month, he found his mind-set at the plate was too tentative.
“When I’m good, I’m aggressive in the zone and I trust my eyes to tell me if it’s a ball or a strike,” he said. “That’s when I’m rolling, when I’m in the batter’s box [thinking], ‘Yes, yes, yes, no,’ instead of ‘No, no, no, yes.’”
The Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers are having great seasons, something not lost on fans who can’t celebrate with them in person because of COVID-19.
Lux is bearing the weight of off-the-field pressures as well, from his own highly anticipated long-term potential — “I can’t imagine the expectations that have been placed on him,” Roberts said — to the recent unrest in his hometown of Kenosha, Wis., where the police shooting of Jacob Blake led to days of protests.
“I definitely am going to do a fundraiser,” Lux said, the details of which are still being worked out. “When I go home after the season as well, I think that’s when I’m going to really get involved in the community. Because I grew up there. A lot of people I know have been affected by this.”
Until then, he’ll have at least three more weeks in the regular season to replicate his auspicious end to the 2019 season.
“He’s come into a situation where guys are already in the middle of a season, so for him to feel like [he is] catching up to speed is certainly not easy,” Roberts said. “But I just want Gavin to be himself, go out there and play, help us win a baseball game.”
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