Dodgers’ Pedro Baez applies a lesson he learned as a young hitter, shuns pressure

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error At least the Dodgers were correct in their assessment of Bell: he was not a future All-Star. Bell played 100 major league games, batting .195. That’s 100 more games than Baez will ever see at third base, but that’s OK by the Dodgers.Recently, Baez has been an infallible pillar of their bullpen. He’s allowed one run in his last 23 appearances through Game 2 of the NLCS, a streak that dates to Aug. 13. In the postseason, only three of the 17 batters he’s faced have reached base. Seven have struck out.The Dodgers have seen this Baez plenty over the last five years. They’ve also seen the other Pedro Baez – the one who struggles in bursts, coughing up one ill-timed run after another until he is booed off the mound by the home crowd.Take one such stretch earlier this season. Baez walked three of the six batters he faced April 20 against the Washington Nationals. He didn’t deliver a clean outing for another 12 games, during which opponents batted .310 and slugged .552. A mere hiccup descended into a chronic illness.Subero has seen this before too, but not from Baez the pitcher. Cody Bellinger homer gives Dodgers their first walkoff win of season That’s why this current streak of success has been so encouraging. If there were any opportunities for Baez to put extra pressure on himself, he seems to have refrained.“This year, bouncing back and putting together this run right now shows he’s growing up, growing through that, in a very confident stage with himself,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “That’s always a good thing.”In a June 2017 game against the New York Mets, Baez drew a rare plate appearance with the bases loaded. He took four consecutive balls, collecting his first career walk and RBI. Subero remembers chatting with Baez about hitting again before a recent regular-season game between the Dodgers and Brewers.“(Baez) said, ‘man, hitting’s not as tough as I thought’,” Subero said. “Carlos, I take a couple ABs and it’s relaxed because I’m not expected to be a hitter now. So now I can put everything together.” MILWAUKEE — When he was a minor league manager, Carlos Subero was tasked with telling a young Kenley Jansen that his services as a catcher were no longer needed. The Dodgers saw a brighter future for him as a pitcher. Jansen grumbled in his broken Spanish, as Subero recalled nine years later on a recent afternoon at Miller Park.The challenge was different for each of Subero’s young pupils. For Jansen, the challenge was to accept his fate as the best closer in franchise history. For Ross Stripling, it was to prove he was healthy. For a streaky, stocky third baseman named Pedro Baez, the challenge was to relax.“We had at the time a guy named Josh Bell at third base,” said Subero, now the Milwaukee Brewers’ first base coach. “And I remember in 2009 I got called up to the big leagues. … (Former Dodgers general manager) Ned Colletti asked me, what do you think about Pedro Baez? I said, ‘this kid’s going to be an All-Star.’ … He had 63 RBIs, something like that, and he was hitting that right-center gap. He was our 3-hole hitter.“And we traded Josh Bell (for George Sherrill in 2009) because we thought Pedro was going to be the next guy.” How Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling topped the baseball podcast empire center_img Dodgers hit seven home runs, sweep Colorado Rockies “Pedro can put pressure on himself,” Subero said. “He wants to do well. Accepting the fact that you’re going to have bad games, you have to move on from them. Pedro back then would be streaky – 0 for 4, 0 for 3, then the next thing you know he’s slumping. And he’s come from hitting 10 for 16 with three home runs.”That three-walk game against the Nationals in April? It followed a streak in which Baez struck out 8 of 10 opponents without allowing a baserunner.Years before Baez first pitched in a competitive game, the Dodgers saw the potential in his right arm. Their evaluators could easily measure how fast Baez slung a baseball across the diamond. Pitching became a viable fallback option, at least in theory.Measuring how a converted position player might adapt to the mental side of pitching is not as easy as holding a radar gun.Subero recalled one day when, as manager of the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts’ game in Montgomery, Ala., was canceled due to rain. He told the team bus to go back to the hotel; he was staying behind to pitch to Baez in the batting cage. Their session continued until 10 p.m.“Situational hitting. Bases loaded. Man on second base. This type of pitcher. Sinker. We had so much fun. Two hours,” Subero said. “And then we went to the mental side: ‘Pedro, if you stabilize this, your potential’s unbelievable.’”Baez topped out as a hitter at Double-A in 2012. He batted .216 for Chattanooga that season. Was the mental side of hitting too big a stumbling block for Baez?“I thought so,” Subero said.It’s been six years since Baez got regular at-bats, but it’s hard not to draw a parallel to his struggles as a pitcher. As the Dodgers’ one consistent set-up man to Jansen, the closer, Baez has a career ERA of 3.01. He’s averaged more than 60 appearances per season since 2015, yet is 0 for 10 in save opportunities. This year, Manager Dave Roberts has refrained from using Baez in high-leverage situations. Baez is most effective, it seems, when pressure is lowest.Related Articles Dodgers’ Max Muncy trying to work his way out of slow start Fire danger is on Dave Roberts’ mind as Dodgers head to San Francisco last_img

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