Savvy signings Teo, Paxton shine vs. rival Giants

April 2nd, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Over the winter, the Dodgers stole the headlines after spending more than $1 billion in contracts. Most of the money, of course, was given to Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who both signed record deals.

But the Dodgers’ spending spree wasn’t just to flex their financial means. They had a plan to put together the best team possible. In order to accomplish that, it required a lot of smart spending on players who could fly under the radar in comparison to the Ohtanis and Yamamotos of the world.

That was on full display Monday as and , two of the Dodgers’ savviest free-agent signings this winter, played integral roles in the dominant 8-3 win over the rival Giants at Dodger Stadium.

“It’s kind of amazing that All-Stars and a Silver Slugger slide under the radar,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman. “But Teoscar’s huge. As soon as we signed him, I was like, ‘Ooh, that’s a big bat in the middle of the lineup,’ and he’s been proving it. James was great.”

As the offseason wore on, the Dodgers identified Paxton as a veteran starter who could boost a rotation that was going to be missing Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw to start the season. Paxton has been a very effective pitcher at times, but injuries have slowed down the left-hander over the past few seasons.

When he's at full health, however, the Dodgers believe Paxton could be a bargain. His track record speaks for itself. In his first impression as a Dodger, Paxton battled some inconsistent command to deliver five scoreless innings of work despite walking five.

“I felt good,” Paxton said. “I didn’t really feel, like, sharp. Five walks, I was kind of in and out of good rhythm. But Will [Smith] did a great job back there and we made pitches when we had to.”

Paxton’s biggest pitch of the night was his last. With the Giants loading up the bases and Paxton pushing up against his allotted pitch count, the left-hander got Wilmer Flores to ground out softly to second base to end the threat. That was also particularly big for the Dodgers, who needed some length from Paxton with a bullpen game looming on Tuesday.

“I thought he pitched good. Obviously, five scoreless innings is pretty good,” Smith said. “I thought he had his heater. It was coming out really good. It was crisp. … We were probably a little wild in the zone. Probably too many walks than we wanted. But overall, he pitched good, got out of some jams and it was a really good start.”

While Paxton took care of the Giants on the mound, the Dodgers’ four superstars atop the lineup did the early scoring. Mookie Betts continued his unbelievable start at the plate with a leadoff triple. He came around to score on an Ohtani RBI groundout. In the third, Freeman and Smith extended the Dodgers’ lead with RBIs of their own.

In the sixth, with the game getting a little bit tighter, it was time for Hernández to shine again. The Dominican outfielder, who passed on multiyear offers from other teams this winter to sign a one-year, $23.5 million deal with the Dodgers, hit a three-run homer off right-hander Tyler Rogers to effectively put the game away. Hernández has now homered in consecutive games, tying Betts for the Major League lead with four through seven games.

“I think with Teoscar, it’s not right-handed vs. left-handed,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “For him, it’s just pitch selection, and he’s hitting some breaking balls that are down below the zone and taking some good swings. It’s a stressful one through five in our lineup, and obviously when you have him in the six-hole, there’s a lot of traffic, there always seems to be guys on base, and he has that propensity to get that big hit.”

While the stars have been the constant driver through seven games, the Dodgers have also gotten key contributions from other players up and down the roster. They also believe they haven’t even scratched the surface of what they’re capable of, which is a scary proposition for opposing teams.

“It’s 13 guys that, whenever anybody gets an at-bat, it’s go time,” Smith said. “They’re competing. It’s quality at-bat after quality at-bat. Obviously a ton of talent, guys who know how to drive guys in. It’s fun to be a part of.”