Joc Pederson made his third consecutive start at first base Sunday for the Dodgers, and it was, shall we say … interesting.
The outfielder-turned-infielder looked shaky while catching two foul pop-ups in the second inning of an eventual 6-3 walk-off victory over the Colorado Rockies, lunging hard to his right at the last second to glove Brendan Rodgers’ pop and falling to the ground as he caught Pat Valaika’s pop near the on-deck circle.
Then, in the seventh inning, Pederson made a diving stop to his right of Raimel Tapia’s grounder and, from a seated position, made a firm and accurate toss to the moving target that was pitcher Kenta Maeda covering the bag for the first out of the inning.
“He’s gonna be fine,” manager Dave Roberts said of Pederson, who made his big league debut at first base against San Francisco on Thursday night. “It’s not a finished product, but this is something we’re committed to, his teammates are understanding of, and we’ve all bought into. It’s not all gonna be good. It’s not a finished product. That’s OK.”
Pederson’s growing pains at the new position were also evident in Saturday night’s 5-4 win over the Rockies.
He made a nice play to his right to field Charlie Blackmon’s grounder and throw to second base in the third inning, but he bobbled the relay throw on a potential double-play grounder later in the inning, which allowed the Rockies to score an unearned run, and had trouble getting the ball out of his glove on Hyun-Jin Ryu’s pick-off of Ian Desmond in the fifth.
“The more you run a player out there, the more comfortable he gets,” Roberts said. “The more conversation you have about situations and bunt plays … I would expect Joc to be much more tired mentally than physically these last few days, but I trust his acumen, his eagerness to learn and his ability to play the position.”
The left-handed-hitting Pederson has worked out periodically at first base during the past three years but began a crash-course at the position last week with an eye toward increasing his versatility and helping the Dodgers put their most potent offensive lineup on the field.
By having Pederson play first base against right-handed pitchers, the Dodgers can keep hot-hitting rookie Alex Verdugo in the outfield when center fielder A.J. Pollock, who has been sidelined since late April because of a right-elbow infection, comes off the injured list after the All-Star break.
Pederson has been doing extensive pregame work with coaches Dino Ebel and George Lombard on positioning and technique and taking live fungo-bat swings off left-handed-hitting video coordinator Chad Chop.
“He’s got good hands, good footwork, and he reads spin well off the bat,” Ebel said. “He has good feel on double plays, holding the runner. The toughest thing is the ball is gonna get to him quicker. He’s got to be in a position to anticipate that and field the ball. He just has to keep doing it, get some experience with it.”
Among the toughest plays for a converted first baseman is making the split-second decision to range to his right for a grounder or to break for the bag and let the second baseman field it, a play that has become even more difficult with the exaggerated infield shifts so many teams employ.
“We’ve been working hard going to his right, into the four-hole, where he has to spin and make that throw to the pitcher when he needs to,” Ebel said. “Or if the batter isn’t a fast runner, he’ll have time to get his momentum toward first base and make a nice flip to the pitcher. It’s going to take reps, going out there.”
Pederson is among the team’s most lethal weapons against right-handers. He’s hitting .233 with an .886 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 20 homers and 36 RBIs, and all 20 of his homers have come against right-handers.
But Roberts is not worried about the stress of learning a new position possibly taking a toll on Pederson or affecting his offense.
“I think with Joc, it’s like a new toy, and it will actually benefit him,” Roberts said. “Yeah, there’s a mental grind with learning a new position, but pitch-to-pitch engagement, I think, is a good thing for him.”