Corey Seager was healthy.
That’s it. That was the secret behind his success early in this unprecedented season. Behind all those squared balls off his bat. Behind his improved mobility at shortstop. Sure, he was stronger, but he returned to his peak — maybe even established a new one — because, above all, he was healthy.
“It’s a body confidence thing,” he said in a video call with reporters before the Dodgers’ 7-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Friday. “Just feeling better, feeling stronger. Being able to make moves that I want to be able to make.”
Seager began Friday having hit balls harder than any player in the major leagues this season. He was first in total barreled balls, first in barreled ball percentage, first in hard-hit swing percentage, and first in total hard-hit balls in play with 28 — seven more than anyone else.
By those metrics, Seager has been the best hitter in the majors. And now he’s hurt again.
Seager exited Friday’s game in the third inning with “low back discomfort” immediately after moving to his left on a ground ball to the second baseman. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Seager hurt his back diving for a ball in the second inning. Roberts said Seager was scheduled to undergo tests and probably won’t play Saturday.
“I just didn’t see him move well in between that inning,” Roberts said. “So, wanted to get him out there, get him out of the game.”
It’s the latest setback for Seager after appearing to have overcome the Tommy John and hip surgeries that sidelined him for most of the 2018 season.
The first evidence that Seager had regained his form surfaced in spring training in February. Teammates and coaches noticed. He looked the part for periods in 2019 but needed time to discover his groove and he couldn’t sustain it for long stretches. Expectations for 2020 rose.
Five months later, after working in Los Angeles through Major League Baseball’s shutdown, he was mashing baseballs during the Dodgers’ truncated three-week training camp.
The pattern continued once the games mattered. The 26-year-old shortstop began Friday batting .347 with three home runs and four doubles in 13 games despite dealing with a quad issue that forced him to miss a game and move to designated hitter for two.
Beyond health, Roberts attributed Seager’s performance to maturation. He’s accepted pleas from the organization to avoid overworking and letting hitting consume him.
Dodgers hitters are encouraged to take as many pitches as possible, but Seager often pounced on the first pitch in his early seasons. His philosophy stuck out. This year, he’s taken a more balanced approach. On Tuesday, for example, he lined a two-run double off San Diego Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet on the ninth pitch of the at-bat to tie the score.
“He’s letting pitchers make mistakes,” Roberts said. “And he’s hitting mistakes.”
Seager bounced between fifth and sixth in the Dodgers’ lineup over the first 14 games. But not everyone in the lineup jumped out to a hot start. Max Muncy was dropped to sixth in the order Friday after going one for his previous 19 with seven strikeouts. He bounced back with a solo home run in the fourth inning off Giants starter Jeff Samardzija to give the Dodgers (10-4) a 3-1 lead.
Mookie Betts was back in the two-hole Friday after missing three starts with an injured left middle finger. He doubled in his first at-bat since Sunday and added a solo home run in his second.
“The training staff did a great job getting the swelling out of there,” Betts said. “That was the most important thing. Everything structurally was fine. It was just the swelling that held me up.”
His return to the lineup injected some life into the offense, but Seager’s departure sapped some away. His health was the reason for his scorching start, and it’s a question again.
Three observations from the Dodgers’ win over the Giants on Friday:
- Julio Urías pitched just four innings in his third start of the season. The left-hander gave up a run and three hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He threw 78 pitches.
- Will Smith hit the third of the Dodgers’ four home runs Friday, a two-run shot in the fourth inning. The Dodgers have hit four home runs twice this season and multiple home runs in nine of 14 games.
- Edwin Ríos got his second start at third base Friday to give Justin Turner a light workday as the team’s designated hitter and hit a solo home run in the eighth inning. Manager Dave Roberts said Ríos is the club’s most improved player since spring training and has earned more playing time.