Kiké Hernández trying to ‘stay level’ after slow start with Dodgers, live interview error

Los Angeles Dodgers' Kiké Hernández (8) runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Saturday, June 8, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The silence on the broadcast was deafening.

In a season already full of frustration and inconsistency, Kiké Hernández suffered another exasperating low Friday night.

During a choppy in-game interview between Hernández and the Apple TV broadcast duo of Wayne Randazzo and Dontrelle Willis on Friday — a second-inning chat in which the mic’d up Hernández struggled to hear the broadcasters through an on-field earpiece — a ball was hit to the third baseman right as Willis asked him a question.

“You guys are a close-knit ballclub,” Willis said, just as Gleyber Torres sent a two-hopper Hernández’s way. “Where does that come from?”

Hernández didn’t have time to answer.

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The ball took a big hop, hit him in the midsection, and resulted in his second error of the year. As Torres pulled into first, neither Hernández nor the broadcasters said anything.

The awkward silence lasted close to 30 seconds.

“What was the previous question, before I made that error?” Hernández finally said, after the broadcasters analyzed the grounder — which Hernández said took a “funky” sideways hop — in his ear.

“I don’t want to ask it again, because I don’t want you to boot the ball again,” Willis joked, trying to infuse the moment with some humor. “I’ll take that E for you, big dog.”

In a split-screen camera shot on the broadcast, a stoic Hernández simply looked forward, focused on the next play.

The entire scene, in hindsight, was a reflection of Hernández’s season so far, one in which the 11-year veteran and Dodgers fan favorite has tried to find the light amid much on-field dismay.

In 50 games to this point, the super-utilityman is batting just .207, second worst on the Dodgers’ active roster ahead of only Chris Taylor.

He also has 31 strikeouts. His OPS is under .600. And he has spent considerable time trying to refine his once-productive swing, recording near-daily observations in a notebook in his locker amid a tedious process of trial and error.

“I feel like I’m, little by little, making progress,” Hernández said. “But you don’t just get rid of bad habits from one day to the next.”

Especially bad habits, Hernández says he believes, that were multiple years in the making.

After his initial six-season stint with the Dodgers ended following their 2020 World Series championship, Hernández spent three years with the Boston Red Sox, where he signed as a free agent.

The first went well, when he hit 20 home runs to help Boston reach the American League Championship Series. The latter two, however, were clunkers, caused in part by a pair of sports hernia injuries that hampered his swing.

“I was hurt for two years,” Hernández said. “And when you’re playing hurt, you compensate in many ways.”

Hernández did finish last season decently, batting .262 after being traded back to the Dodgers at the midseason deadline. Before re-signing in L.A. on a one-year deal this offseason, Hernández also underwent surgery to repair his hernias, allowing him to enter this season back at full health.

“He looks great,” manager Dave Roberts said in spring training. “He’s moving like Kiké of old.”

Swinging like the Kiké of old, though, has proved a taller task over the first couple of months.

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Mental cues and mechanical thoughts Hernández once relied upon have taken little effect (a problem Taylor also cited after a couple of injury-plagued seasons). And while Hernández’s body is no longer ailing, he said, the bad habits he developed have been slow to fully dissipate.

“Bad habits for a couple weeks are hard to get rid of. For a couple months, even harder,” Hernández said. “[For me], it was years. It’s a lot. So just trying to put in the work and understand, maybe there are things that click here or there, but for it to become consistent it’s gonna take some time.”

With a deep breath, he added, “I’ve been giving grace to myself every once in a while. … It’s about riding the roller coaster and figuring out a way to stay level, stay present in the moment.”

Friday’s midbroadcast error presented his latest test.

While Hernández didn’t blame the error on his in-game interview — “I think that ball would have hit my [midsection] regardless of whether I was wearing a mic or not,” he quipped — the veteran did acknowledge the awkward nature of the moment.

“You get exposed and then everybody talks about, ‘You made an error because you had a mic on,’ ” he said, later adding: “You can say it’s embarrassing, because you’re in the spotlight. You’re talking as the play is happening.”

Hernández also clarified a pithy quote he gave to the Associated Press in the postgame clubhouse that night, when he was asked if he would reconsider doing future in-game interviews — for which players are paid $10,000 for their participation.

“No, because we’re getting paid,” he told the AP. “I like money.”

Two days later, he said that the comment was meant to be sarcastic.

“I gave a very ‘me’ answer,” said Hernández, who has long been the Dodgers’ equivalent of a class clown in the clubhouse. “[The AP story] took it literally.”

Roberts didn’t initially realize Hernández was being interviewed at the time of his error, but brushed the whole situation aside with reporters Saturday.

While Roberts noted he probably wouldn’t have done in-game interviews in his playing days, he understood why some current players such as Hernández (who has done in-game interviews “four or five” times in his MLB career, he said) agree to them regularly.

“It’s part of sports now,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately, Kiké made an error. It’s not the only error he’s ever made.”

Asked if he spoke to Hernández about the play afterward, Roberts said there was no need.

“He prepares,” Roberts said. “I know he likes the limelight. He’s into the social media thing. He still plays hard, practices hard, but he still likes to build his brand. So I get it. I’m OK with it. He plays his butt off.”

For all the ways Hernández’s season has gone awry so far, Roberts seemed intent on making that latter message clear.

The Dodgers, after all, still trust Hernández with regular playing time, especially lately with Max Muncy sidelined by an oblique injury.

They’ve praised his defensive improvements from last year, when his 18 errors were fifth most in the majors.

And they remain optimistic in his potential at the plate, hopeful Hernández’s four-game hitting steak to end last week’s trip to Pittsburgh and New York (including a tiebreaking home run Saturday night at Yankee Stadium) can help erase the frustration that has accompanied his slow start.

“He wants to perform, like all players do, but he sometimes tries to get four hits in one at-bat,” Roberts said, preaching patience amid Hernández’s early-season struggles. “[Lately], he’s not swinging as much at balls off the plate. And he’s using the whole field. So, for me, the at-bat quality is better. That’s what I’m looking for, for him, regardless of results right now.”

Clayton Kershaw could be close to a minor league rehabilitation assignment, after pitching two simulated innings with the Dodgers’ low-A Rancho Cucamonga affiliate Friday.

According to Roberts, Kershaw touched 90 mph with his fastball during the session — a mark he struggled to reach late last season, when he was dogged by a shoulder injury that eventually required offseason surgery.

Kershaw, who is hopeful of returning to a big league mound by July or August, will throw three simulated innings this coming week. After that, the team will decide whether he is ready for a rehab assignment (the last precursor to his long-awaited return).

Right-handed starting pitcher Bobby Miller probably will have at least one more outing in his current rehab assignment, Roberts said, as the 25-year-old continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury.

Read more: Yoshinobu Yamamoto stellar in another big-game setting as Dodgers edge Yankees

While Roberts was initially hopeful of getting Miller back this week — the club’s 2023 rookie star hasn’t pitched since early April — he said Sunday that the team is now leaning toward continuing Miller’s rehab assignment another week.

Miller has made three rehab starts with Rancho Cucamonga and triple-A Oklahoma City, working into the fifth inning of a one-run, two-strikeout outing last Friday.

Short hops

Miguel Rojas has been battling “overall soreness” in his leg the last couple of weeks, Roberts said, leading the manager to “pick my spots” with Rojas’ playing time “to try and keep him as fresh as possible.” Despite his .283 batting average this season, Rojas has started back-to-back games only once in the last month. … Injured pitchers Dustin May (elbow surgery) and Brusdar Graterol (shoulder) have both been throwing bullpen sessions at the club’s Arizona complex lately, Roberts said. May reportedly eclipsed the 90-mph mark. … Muncy has been taking dry swings in recent days, but is still on a “slow program,” Roberts said, with his timeline to return remaining unclear.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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