Major League Baseball
How Teoscar Hernández emerged as an unsung hero of the Dodgers' offense
Major League Baseball

How Teoscar Hernández emerged as an unsung hero of the Dodgers' offense

Updated Jun. 10, 2024 3:05 p.m. ET

Teoscar Hernández launched his third home run of the series Sunday at Yankee Stadium, a go-ahead, sixth-inning blast that capped his weekend of dominance in the Bronx, then welcomed the deluge of sunflower seeds tossed his way by teammate Mookie Betts before retreating to the dugout. 

After all, someone had to return the gesture to the Dodgers' new home run leader. 

All year, Hernández has awaited hitters from the top step of the dugout after their trot around the bases, grinning widely as he showers them with seeds — a celebration he began six years ago with the Blue Jays and continued as his career took him from Toronto to Seattle to Los Angeles over the past three seasons. 

At the very least, it was clear from the outset that Hernández would bring a fun-loving, energetic personality to the Dodgers' clubhouse this year, whether he was doling out seeds or Spanish lessons. But the left fielder has provided so much more than that, turning the "Big 4" at the top of the order into a "Big 5" while lifting an outfield unit that would be languishing without him. 

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His one-year, $23.5 million pact didn't capture many headlines in a $1.2 billion Dodgers offseason that included the largest contract ever given to a player in North American team sports history, the biggest deal ever given to a pitcher and a trade for another ace, but his addition looks vital for a Dodgers team that was seeking another boost when the lights are brightest after a series of October shortcomings. 

"I'm a guy that likes to be happy, likes to play around, to enjoy the moment, to have fun, and knowing that I'm here only for one year, I have to put that out of my mind," Hernández told FOX Sports. "I cannot think, ‘Oh, I'm going to stay here, or no, I have to make the best that I can in this moment and just enjoy it to the max."

In a series between the Dodgers and Yankees built up for its star power — then dimmed by Juan Soto's absence due to forearm discomfort — no one shined brighter than Hernández. He won the opener for the Dodgers by knocking in the first two runs of the series in the 11th inning, then won his team the series the next day with a two-homer, six-RBI effort. 

His second home run of the performance was a game-breaking grand slam that included a couple yells, fist pumps and bumps on the chest as he rounded the bases. He let out a loud "woooo" after crossing home plate that would have made Ric Flair proud. 

On a team that features Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman, it is Hernández who leads all Dodger players — and all National League outfielders — with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs on the season. He went 6-for-12 with three homers, two doubles, one walk and nine RBIs on the weekend to raise his OPS on the year to .849, a mark that trails only San Diego's Jurickson Profar for the highest in the majors among qualified left fielders. 

"This is what he signed up for," manager Dave Roberts told reporters over the weekend.

Teoscar Hernández smashes grand slam as L.A. busts out vs. NYY

It's what the Dodgers hoped for, too, believing this kind of production was still possible after a down year in Seattle for Hernández that left the former All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger without the multi-year offer he coveted this winter. They saw an opportunity, even if it went against their modus operandi. 

As a team, the Dodgers boast the third-lowest chase rate and the most walks in baseball this year, both common themes for the type of hitters they've targeted under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Hernández bucks the trend. His 26 home runs and 93 RBIs last year came with the third-highest whiff rate, 20th-highest chase rate and third-most strikeouts of any qualified hitter last year. There was always a free-swinging nature to his approach, even when he was going right. 

But the Dodgers felt comfortable taking on whatever swing-and-miss deficiencies came with the power and production he could bring to their new-look lineup. In addition, Hernández's struggles last year really only came at T-Mobile Park. He had a .643 OPS at home and an .830 mark on the road. The latter mark was in line with his Toronto production, and he was still hitting the ball hard last season without much to show for it. 

"I think we saw some home/road splits, a little bit of potentially pressing and causing his swing to get out of whack," Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said this spring. "Seattle's a tough place to hit for right-handed hitters." 

The Mariners, whose best qualified hitter this year has a .732 OPS, did not extend Hernández a qualifying offer after last season. That opened the door for the Dodgers, who were particularly intrigued by his exceptional work against left-handers. 

Teoscar Hernández crushes solo homer as Dodgers grab early lead

Gomes and the Dodgers expected Hernández’s walk rate, which was the lowest of his career last year, would see a natural uptick in their revamped lineup. The Dodgers didn't think Hernández needed to drastically overhaul his swing or change his DNA as a hitter to succeed in Los Angeles, and Hernández told FOX Sports that he hasn’t done much differently at the plate this year than he did during his best years with the Blue Jays. Instead, he has built on the elements that made him so appealing in the first place.

"It just depends how you feel, depends how your timing is, how confident you are and how comfortable you feel," Hernández said. 

The Dodgers are getting the All-Star version of Hernández — both off the field, where he quickly befriended Ohtani and took the time to build relationships with his newest teammates, and on it, where he ranks in the top 10 in OPS and wRC+ among all qualified NL hitters and is on pace to set a career high in homers at 31 years old. 

He has maintained his hard-hitting ways while lowering his chase rate and increasing his walk rate to their best levels since 2019 in Toronto — even better than they were during his 2021 All-Star season and his standout 2022 season, which ended with him launching two home runs in his final playoff game with the Blue Jays. 

The only outfielders in the majors with more RBIs than Hernández this year were standing in the opposite dugout this weekend at Yankee Stadium. With the spotlight on other stars, it was Hernández who took center stage in the marquee matchup, which felt like October in June. 

"I've played a lot here, [but] never with this intensity, with this adrenaline, with this kind of crowd," Hernández said. "It's different, I don't know, but I like it. I like to be in this spot."

Teoscar Hernández drives in 11th inning go-ahead runs in Dodgers' win

The Dodgers entered New York coming off a series loss in Pittsburgh and having dropped eight of their past 14 games. With the boost from Hernández, who knocked in more than half of their runs over the weekend, they returned home with a series victory against the best team in baseball. 

And, maybe, a little more hope of reversing their recent postseason failures. 

"Knowing the guys here and having a great time, that's the only way you can go through all the slumps, the bad moments, when the team is not going good," Hernández told FOX Sports in May. "I think that's the way you pass through all that and start to get better again."

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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