Báez happy to still be a Dodger after hardships

February 21st, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- By all baseball metrics, is a survivor.

When he couldn’t cut it as a hitter after six Minor League seasons at third base, he took up pitching and turned himself into a Major Leaguer. He’s outlasted multiple high-priced Draft picks, endured the wrath of unusually hostile home crowds and came out the other side unflappably resilient.

He’s entering his seventh season in the Dodgers' bullpen, with free agency in sight and a rare recent win at the arbitration table under his belt.

After Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw, Báez ranks third on the current roster for longevity in the organization, powered by a live right arm and unusual durability. His ranking tenure in the clubhouse surprised even Báez.

“I’m happy to still be here,” said Báez, who turns 32 next month. “I’m thankful I had a second chance after being a third baseman. I was able to go through a lot of things. I can’t control what the fans do. Every baseball player goes through difficult times and you have to take it in the best way.”

The difficult times included last postseason, when Báez allowed a three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Báez went home to the Dominican Republic to regroup, continue working on his game-changing changeup and prepare for another year setting up closer Jansen.

“I need to be more consistent with my pitches and have more confidence in them in the game,” Báez said.

Báez won’t reveal the grip on his “secret” changeup, but he said that’s the pitch that has kept him in the Major Leagues, not his heater.

“By the middle of 2018, I started throwing it to any batter and for a strike in any count,” he said.

Báez went 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA last year. He ranked among the top National League relievers in wins, WHIP, holds, hits allowed per nine innings and opponents batting average. He led Dodgers relievers in innings pitched, ERA, games played and opponents batting average (.174, a career best).

With free-agent eligibility at the end of this season, Báez sees this as the time to reach the next level.

“Of course you look at the situation and I’d love to close, whether it’s here if they give me the opportunity or anywhere, it’s something I want,” he said.

Báez will earn $4 million this season after becoming the first player to beat the Dodgers in arbitration in 19 years. The Dodgers offered $3.5 million.

“There’s always a first time,” he said.