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Dodgers Dugout: Who is going to replace Kiké Hernández?

Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández poses for a portrait during spring training photo day Feb. 20, 2020, in Phoenix.
Kiké Hernández
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and I’m hoping fans will be able to return to Dodger Stadium by the end of the season (to do something other than get a vaccine or vote).

Fan favorite Kiké Hernández signed a two-year, $14-million deal with the Boston Red Sox last week, bringing an end to his six-season tenure with the Dodgers.

Hernández came to the Dodgers before the 2015 season along with Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher and Andrew Heaney in exchange for Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas. He quickly became a fan favorite with the enthusiasm, his Rally Banana outfit and his interaction with fans, particularly kids.

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He also became a jack-of-all-trades on the field, becoming an above-average defender wherever the Dodgers put him. Just look at how many games he played at each position with the team:

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Second base: 196
Center field: 161
Left field: 119
Shortstop: 77
Right field: 72
Third base: 30
First base: 15
DH: 4
Pitcher: 1
Pinch-hitter: 175
Pinch-runner: 7

He did everything except catch. So why did the Dodgers let him go?

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Hernández wants to start and play every day. The Dodgers don’t envision him that way, so he left for the Red Sox, who told him he will start. And good for him.

The Dodgers never had much faith in Hernandez’s ability to hit right-handed pitching, so he mainly only started against left-handers. In his career against righties, Hernandez is hitting .222/.286/.386, good for an OPS+ of 82, meaning he was 18% worse than an average hitter. Against lefties, he hits .263/.345/.474, for an OPS+ of 122, meaning he was 22% better than an average hitter.

And last season, his overall numbers fell, hitting only .230/.270/.410 for an OPS+ of 83.

That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been nice to have him back. It would have been. The Dodgers wanted him back in the same role, but it wasn’t to be. So we wish him a fond farewell and hope he does well against everyone except L.A.

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So who replaces him? Unless there is a youth serum Derrel Thomas can take, it looks as if Zach McKinstry will become the next super-utility player for the team.

McKinstry will turn 26 in April and was chosen in the 33rd round of the 2016 draft. His last minor league season was 2019, when he hit .300/.366/.516 spread over two teams. He was in the alternate camp for the Dodgers most of last season and went two for seven in a brief stay in L.A. He is listed as the Dodgers’ 18th-best prospect by mlb.com, which writes about him: “With his quickness and plus arm strength, McKinstry is a quality defender at second base (his primary position), similar if a bit more erratic at third base and capable at shortstop. He also saw brief action at all three outfield spots last season. His combination of offensive ability and versatility could make him a lefty-hitting version of Chris Taylor.”

In short, he is an unproven commodity in the majors. If he can’t do the job, that will mean the 400 plate appearances Hernandez averaged a season will have to be absorbed by Taylor, AJ Pollock, Matt Beaty, Gavin Lux, Edwin Ríos and whomever else makes the team. So, while I have concerns about Hernández leaving, it is far too early to judge how much this will hurt, or help, the team.

Of the Dodgers’ free agents, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson and Jake McGee remain unsigned.

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Farewell, Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron, one of the greatest players in baseball history and to many still the home run king, died last week. And while he never played for the Dodgers, he did hit his record-breaking 715th homer against the Dodgers, off Al Downing, who reminisced about it with Bill Ladson on dodgers.com.

“There had never been a lot of people in the seats when we went to Atlanta, even though they were one of our big rivals in the National League West,” Downing, 79, said. “I thought people were going to be there. There is going to be a lot of noise. You have to really concentrate because it’s more than you are normally accustomed to.

“When he picks out his pitch, it’s going somewhere. But when he first hit it, I didn’t think it was gone. I was watching left fielder Bill Buckner, and the wind, but the ball kept carrying, carrying …

“Hank had a nice sense of humor. We talked and he told me, ‘I want to tell you, don’t you feel embarrassed by the fact that you gave up the home run. You have been a good pitcher your entire career, and you don’t have to walk around with your head down.’ … Then he said he is glad it’s over with.”

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Aaron faced horrific verbal abuse and death threats from white supremacists who didn’t want a Black man holding the home run record that belonged to Babe Ruth. The fact he accomplished the feat during all of that makes it all the more impressive.

According to the Braves, Aaron received about 900,000 pieces of mail during his record pursuit, 100,000 of them expressing hate. Aaron advised teammates not to sit too close to him in the dugout.

“Hank used to show them to us,” Dusty Baker said of the threatening letters. “People have got to share stuff with somebody.”

“I don’t know how many nights he played under death threats,” Johnny Oates, another Braves teammate, told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. “But he would go out and play and stay on an even keel. And he always kept that great smile. He showed unbelievable class.”

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When he surpassed Ruth’s mark, Aaron said: “I don’t want them to forget Ruth. I just want them to remember me.”

Did Don Sutton get a World Series ring in 1988?

I received several emails from readers who wondered whether Don Sutton got a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1988. Sutton pitched for the team until August, when he was released. I asked Fred Claire, general manager of that team, who tells me that Sutton did get a ring and even accompanied the team to the White House to commemorate the title. Another interesting tidbit Claire shared: Mario Soto, who was on the disabled list all season, also was given a ring. Thirty-nine players received one. It was the only World Series ring of Sutton’s long career.

Will there be a spring training this year?

Maybe not, at least in Arizona, which has the highest per-capita rate of coronavirus infection in the nation.

According to our own Bill Shaikin, the director of the Cactus League and mayors, city managers and tribal leaders of the nine Arizona communities that host 15 major league teams asked that Major League Baseball postpone spring training as the virus ravages the Phoenix area.

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“As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point,” the letter reads.

Players are scheduled to start reporting to camps in about three weeks. In a statement, the Major League Baseball Players Assn. said it had not heard directly from the Cactus League.

In a statement, MLB said it would continue to monitor the situation.

“As we have previously said publicly,” MLB said, “we will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the Players Association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of Spring Training and the Championship Season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other gameday personnel in a sport that plays every day.”

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New Ross Porter website

Friend of newsletter Ross Porter has a new website that I highly recommend. On the site, he has interviews with former players and friends and his remembrances of other Dodgers from days gone by. Featured right now is a tribute to Don Sutton that includes Don’s son Daron, Fred Claire and Bill Russell. The website is at rossportersports.com.

Your first Dodgers memory

Since I still have a lot of these, “Your first Dodgers memory” returns this season. If you haven’t already, I’d still love for you to send me your first Dodgers memory, and it might run in an upcoming Dodgers Dugout. Include your name and where you live. And don’t send only a sentence. Tell why that memory sticks out in your mind. You can email me your memory at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. Thanks.

Rod Lehnertz: For me (and my brother Dave) it all began in 1971, when our family took a trip from Iowa to California to visit relatives. Our uncle Jerry wrote a letter to the Dodgers explaining that he had purchased authentic Dodger uniforms for his 6- and 7 year-old nephews and hoped they might be able to meet a Dodger or two when at the game. The Dodgers did one better!

He was given a letter to present to the dugout officer before game time. Suddenly we found ourselves in the Dodger dugout and on the field during batting practice! We met all the Dodgers (including our favorite player Willie Davis, who stopped taking swings to take a picture and fix my brother’s broken jacket zipper, and a group of four rookies…Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell!), and then a picture was taken of us with a gentleman I didn’t know at the time … one Vin Scully!

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Years later and for my 40th birthday, my brother got ahold of that photo when he was attending an event that included Vin. The picture was signed by Vin and has become my most precious possession (if we have a fire, as soon as I get the photo out of the house, I will go look for my family).

By the way, the Dodgers lost to the hated S.F. Giants that day, 3-2, and I have been told the two Lehnertz brothers left Chavez Ravine crying! Many Dodger-blue tears (of joy and sorrow) have been shed since then.

Larry Page of Tampa, Fla.: My first real memory was watching the 7th game of the 1955 World Series — the first Series ever won by the Dodgers. I lived in Tennessee and my 12th birthday was the following Saturday. On the morning of the game, I told my mother that, for my birthday present, I wanted to stay home from school and watch the game. To my surprise, she let me. The key play of the game was in a late inning when the Yankees had runners on first and second and Yogi Berra hit an opposite-field line drive down the left-field line which would have tied the game and left Yogi in scoring position with only one out. Sandy Amoros was playing in extreme left-center field and it’s still hard to believe he caught the ball. He then threw to Pee Wee Reese, who threw to Gil Hodges to double up the runner on first who had already rounded second base. The Dodgers were ahead 2-0 at the time and that was the final score. My only regret was that my father, a longtime Dodger fan, had died one year prior and never got to see them be world champions.

And finally

Vin Scully calls Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Watch and listen here.

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Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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