After Enrique Hernandez batted .190 in 2016 I wondered if he had peaked. Hernandez a Dodgers fan and management favorite rebounded in the following seasons. He posted a 117 OPS + with 21 home runs and a .256/.336/.470 slash line in 2018. Hernandez had been considered a super utility player throughout his playing career with the Dodgers. He’s played every position except for catcher and can slot in at any position at any time all over the diamond. The Dodgers looked at him like a swiss army knife that they could deploy in any way.
Unfortunately for Kike, his below average batting and on-base skills held him back from becoming an everyday player. He’s posted a career .323 on-base percentage and is a lifetime .245 hitter. Those numbers are certainly not good enough to inspire confidence. However his productive season in 2018 changed management’s mind despite his bat disappearing in the postseason. The Dodgers announced that Hernandez would become their regular second baseman this year and Enrique has responded well, opening the 2019 season with a .292/.382/.585 line swatting five home runs with 14 runs batted in. He’s posted a 153 OPS+ while delivering sterling defense at the keystone.
What makes him so special is that every now and then he displays flashes of brilliance. Occasional bursts of incredible talent and power. He does it when the Dodgers need him most. He’s batting .500 (21 for 42) with 4 home runs and 5 doubles against the Dodger’s long time enemy Madison Bumgarner. Who could forget his three home runs against the Cubs in the Dodger’s 2017 NLCS pennant clinching win. Or he’ll make an incredible play in the field ranging hundreds of feet in the air like superman. Those are just a few prime examples of his strange and unique gifts. On Friday night against the Brewers he did it again.
The Dodgers and Brewers were in a tight game, locked in a 2-2 tie in the top of the eighth inning. Milwaukee had their elite reliever Josh Hader on the mound, but he was wavering. The Dodgers had run his pitch count up and he had issued walks to A.J. Pollock and David Freese. Up stepped Hernandez with two outs and a chance to put the Dodgers in the lead.
The count ran to 0-2 and it’s important to note what opposing hitters had done against Hader historically with the count at 0-2. The long haired relief ace had limited opposing hitters to a .049 (4 for 81) with 62 strikeouts. He had never allowed a home run in an 0-2 count. Generally if Hader gets you down 0-2, you are more than likely out. But even Hader’s excellence was no match for Hernandez’s freaky uncanny ability to rise to the occasion when the Dodgers need him most. Boy did he ever. Hernandez lined that 0-2 pitch over the left center field wall to give the Dodgers a 5-2 lead and silence the Miller Park crowd. It felt like another special moment for Hernandez. Indeed it was.
What that home run told us was that Hader is not some kind of robotic pitching machine. He’s fallible, human and prone to making mistakes just like any other pitcher. He’s not unhittable and the Dodgers are no longer scared of him. It also tells you that Enrique is a special player, one that can come up in the toughest situations against the toughest pitchers and succeed. The guy is a total freak and we all love it.