Herrera, Rojas lead offense with 3 hits each

Catcher starts ninth-inning rally while third baseman drives in three runs

May 28th, 2022

PHOENIX – A week on the injured list did not seem to faze rookie catcher Jose Herrera a bit.

Herrera had his first career three-hit game in his return to the lineup Friday, and his second opposite-field single leading off the ninth inning started a two-run rally that came up just short as the Dodgers held on for a 6-4 victory at Chase Field.

“A great day for him, being able to walk up to the plate and get a couple of really nice base hits, a couple of nice approaches after a little bit of time down,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.

“He was thinking about baseball and working hard during those missed days. You walk up and get three hits in your return, you are doing a lot right. They were big hits. They were team at-bats, too.

“We had a couple of guys carry us today, and tomorrow somebody else will eat and we’ll try to win a baseball game.”

Herrera broke camp as part of a catching group that included starter Carson Kelly and catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho, and with increased playing time while Kelly deals with an injury, has worked to refine his hitting approach.

“We’ve been working hard with the hitting coaches trying to keep it simple,” said Herrera, who was placed on the injured list May 19 without a designation.

“I try to stay in the middle [of the field] and the other way to get comfortable out there. There are a lot of hits out there. Today was a good day with a bat. Unfortunately we lost the game, but we are still fighting.”

Herrera singled and Cooper Hummel walked to open the ninth off Dodgers’ closer Craig Kimbrel in a 6-2 game, and Josh Rojas doubled to the warning track in left-center field, a ball that bounced into the seats on one hop, scoring one run.

Christian Walker grounded out to score the second run of the inning before Kimbrel retired David Peralta on a hard grounder to second base.

“I’m just trying to get on first base any way I can just to give those two guys behind me a chance,” said Rojas, who had three hits and a sacrifice fly. “They could tie the game with one swing.”

Three-time World Series winner Madison Bumgarner seems to believe in his new catcher. Bumgarner took time to praise Herrera after their first Spring Training outing, and they worked together again Friday.

“We have pretty good confidence in each other,” Herrera said. “Communication. He’s a fighter every time he takes the mound, and I love that. He’s been aggressive his whole career, and that’s something I’ve been looking for.”

Herrera, meanwhile, has made the most of his time. In addition to his three hits Friday, he picked Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor off third base in the fourth inning on a pickoff play designed to take advantage of the Dodgers’ aggressiveness on the bases.

Lovullo mentioned the path Herrera faced during Spring Training.

“It was outlined to him that he had a golden opportunity to make a positive impression, and anything was possible beyond that,” Lovullo said of the early chats with Herrera.

“I saw a player that was engaged every single day, was learning about his offensive capabilities and was bringing everything he could to the defensive side of the equation. It’s playing out for him. He is still a very young player. Still learning, but he is very mature for his age. He can relate to a lot of different concepts that we are trying to plug in here.”

Bumgarner gave up all of his runs on three home runs -- a three-run shot by Edwin Ríos, followed by a homer by Mookie Betts, who passed Walker for the NL home run lead with his 13th, in the second inning and a solo shot by Trea Turner in the sixth.

The D-backs lead the Major Leagues with 37 home runs in May, but they were held without one for the first time in four games. They have hit 16 in their last eight games, including a three-homer day by Rojas in Chicago as part of a seven-homer win.

Cleanup hitter Walker has eight homers in May, the most in one month in his eight-year career, four as the D-backs’ primary first baseman. He hit a career-high 29 homers in 2019, his first year as a starter.

“It’s a funny title, home run hitter,” Walker said. “As a guy who is in the four-hole, my job is to drive in runs. Hit balls hard. Slugging is a part of it. In the same sense, you can’t go up there aiming for homers. It’s a fine line of trying to get yourself up to be successful and drive in runs for the team but also understand what your role is."