'Other guys' Hernández, Miller come up big vs. Cards

Behind superstar headliners, depth pieces set to play essential roles for Dodgers

March 30th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- The list of stars on the Dodgers’ roster runs deep.

Offensively, they are going to rely on Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith, all of whom have established themselves as some of the best players in the Majors at their respective positions.

On the mound, the Dodgers have Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, while also waiting on the likes of Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw to return from the injured list at some point this season.

The stars will undoubtedly drive the Dodgers more often than not. That’s what separates them from other teams around the league. But for the Dodgers to reach their peak potential this season, they’re also going to need contributions from everyone else on the roster.

When it all clicks, the Dodgers will be nearly impossible to beat -- and that’s exactly what happened on Friday, as clubbed two homers and delivered an 11-strikeout gem in a 6-3 win over the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

“There’s the top guys everyone is talking about,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “But those other guys have to do their part, too.”

Coming into this offseason, the Dodgers planned to move Betts, who passed Davey Lopes for the franchise lead with 29 leadoff homers in a career and moved into fifth place all-time, to the infield on a permanent basis. In order to move a six-time Gold Glover from right field to the infield dirt, they needed to sign or trade for a right-handed-hitting outfielder who could smash lefties while also holding his own against righties.

In those conversations, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Brandon Gomes quickly identified Hernández as their top target. Over the course of his career, Hernández has an OPS of over .850 against southpaws and nearly .800 against righties.

On Friday, Hernández showed off why he’s one of the most feared hitters in the league against lefties, taking Cardinals left-hander Zack Thompson deep twice, with a solo shot in the second inning and a three-run bomb in the fourth to give the Dodgers an early five-run lead.

“We saw one today,” Hernández said with a smile, when asked about facing a lefty for the first time this season. “I’m always happy. It doesn’t matter whether I’m facing a left-hander or a right-hander. I’m just trying to do my job and do it in the best way I can.”

That was more than enough for Miller, who had one of the best starts of his career, punching out 11 over six scoreless innings. Miller was in the upper 90s with his four-seam fastball -- and occasionally above 100 mph -- but most importantly, he had his secondary pitches working at their best.

Miller only got nine whiffs, but they came at just the right time, including blowing a 98 mph heater past Nolan Gorman to end the sixth inning. Knowing his night was over, Miller let out a roar as he walked back to the Dodgers’ dugout to a standing ovation.

“That was awesome,” Miller said. “I haven’t felt anything like that before. That definitely gives me a lot of confidence out there, hearing the fans like that, them roaring like that. I was pretty fired up after, because the previous two batters, my command was starting to get a little worse, was a three-ball count, so that felt really good.”

Overall, the right-hander got four whiffs on the four-seamer, three on the changeup, and one each on his curveball and slider. When he has it all working, the young right-hander shows exactly why he was one of the top pitching prospects in the game entering the ‘23 season, and why he’ll be an integral part of the Dodgers’ success in ‘24.

“He’s a big piece to the puzzle,” Roberts said. “He’s a top-end guy. He’s proving that now. To go out there and expect to win when he’s out there. Also, as a big-bodied, physically pitcher, to be able to know that you’re going to be able to get five, six, seven innings out of him every time he takes the mound. … You need that length and you need those horses to get you through the season.”