One day last week, Enrique Hernandez decided to shave his head. His brown locks comprised the most recognizable hairdo on the Dodgers, but Hernandez had two reasons for the change. He hoped to reverse his rotten luck at the plate. And he hoped to pay tribute to his father, Enrique Sr., who is battling cancer.
Hernandez did not find his name in his team’s lineup Sunday, Father’s Day at Dodger Stadium, but he spent hours during the 2-1 victory thinking about his dad, who scouted in Puerto Rico and coached his son in his youth. In the eighth inning, with the Dodgers scoreless and drifting toward a defeat against Milwaukee, Hernandez stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter. He would soon find a fitting tribute for this day.
Hernandez turned on an inside fastball from Brewers reliever Will Smith and hit a solo home run, putting his team on the board and setting the stage for Yasmani Grandal’s bases-loaded walk to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. After his heroics, Hernandez felt rattled by emotion.
“As soon as I hit it, I had goosebumps throughout my entire body,” he said. “I had to try to keep my composure as I ran the bases.”
Powered by Hernandez, the Dodgers (38-33) wrenched a victory out of the day’s torpor. Baked by 98-degree heat, silenced by Milwaukee starter Matt Garza for six innings, the team still escaped this weekend with three victories in four games against the Brewers.
The level of competition will increase when the Washington Nationals arrive on Monday. Clayton Kershaw will duel with Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg. The impending arrival of Strasburg does not bode well for the Dodgers’ inconsistent offense.
“It’s still a grind,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “We had a hard time getting any runs across, getting anything going. But we got enough. We’re finding a way to win right now, which is important.”
Making his first start since getting cracked in the knee by a line drive, Kenta Maeda struck out eight across 6 1/3 innings. He offered the bullpen a semblance of rest after the relievers logged 16 1/3 innings the previous three nights. Maeda surrendered a first-inning home run and little else.
When Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt drilled Maeda last week, Maeda collapsed to the ground. The pain, he explained later, was like nothing he had ever felt on a baseball field. He skipped his bullpen session in between starts, but otherwise looked like himself.
“The medical staff did a great job with Kenta,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “But Kenta’s got a lot of fight, a lot of heart. When you’re not feeling 100%, to still go out there and compete – that’s what Kenta does.”
A misplaced fastball put the Dodgers in a first-inning hole. Maeda fed Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett a 91-mph fastball at the belt. Gennett volleyed the baseball over the center-field fence.
“His fastball command was dominant the rest of the game,” Ellis said. “That’s huge for us.”
In the morning, Roberts sounded optimistic about Maeda’s readiness. He joked that he hoped to see him run the bases. “I hope he has to slide on it,” Roberts said.
Roberts got his wish in the third inning. Maeda reached on a throwing error by Garza. Corey Seager followed up two batters later with a single into right field. With two outs, Maeda decided to try to reach third base. Rather than putting a runner in scoring position for Justin Turner, the team’s hottest hitter, Maeda got himself thrown out to end the inning.
“That was on his own,” Roberts said. “He was aggressive right there.”
Maeda’s next time at the plate proved more productive. After Howie Kendrick hit a single and Ellis got hit by a pitch, Maeda bunted both into scoring position. But Chase Utley rolled into a groundout to end the fifth and keep the Dodgers scoreless.
The outs only continued in the sixth. Turner smacked a one-out single. Adrian Gonzalez erased him by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play.
The string of fruitless at-bats continued until Hernandez came off the bench in the eighth. His homer landed in the Dodgers bullpen, where it was retrieved for later.
So after the winning rally in the ninth, when Gonzalez singled, Trayce Thompson singled, Kendrick walked and Grandal drove in the winning run with another walk, a clubhouse attendant placed the ball inside Hernandez’s locker. Hernandez plans to see his father next week in Pittsburgh, and give him the gift.
“It’s not my ball,” Hernandez said. “It’s my dad’s ball.”