LOS ANGELES ― Maybe the surest sign Hanser Alberto’s fortunes were turning came July 12 in St. Louis.
Alberto, an impatient hitter to that point in the season, worked a seven-pitch at-bat against Cardinals starter Jordan Hicks in his first plate appearance. Alberto grounded out, but the tone was set. He had turned a corner.
“That was a good at-bat for me,” he said. “After that, my eyes were more ready. My body was in a good position. I think that’s why I’ve been looking better at home plate.”
Alberto collected a ground-rule double before the night was over. That kicked off a streak of four consecutive games with at least one hit entering Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
Hitting streaks among platoon players are poor indicators. In Alberto’s case, at least the results match the process. Manager Dave Roberts penciled Alberto into the number-5 spot in his batting order Saturday against Giants lefty Alex Wood, the highest Alberto has appeared in a starting lineup in 2022.
The recent change in Alberto’s approach gave the manager confidence that he could handle the brighter spotlight.
“It’s kind of counterintuitive: he’s aggressive, which allows you to be more selective,” Roberts said. “When you try to be too careful, you expand (the strike zone) more. He’s going the other way, spoiling pitches, but when he gets his pitch he hits it hard.”
Hitting the ball hard is easier when you’re healthy. Alberto said he’s been feeling healthier since getting a cortisone shot in his right knee at the end of June.
The shot caused Alberto to miss a three-game series against the Padres, which was easy to miss. He has appeared in only 44 of the Dodgers’ first 93 games despite never visiting the injured list. The time off was worth it.
“Power, better movement, now I can get more comfortable at home plate,” he said. “My first step is better right now fielding. When you feel good, you know you can do good things out there.”
The Dodgers signed Alberto in March to a one-year, $1.6 million contract with a club option for 2023. Cutting him from their major league roster would have involved little risk. For a time, it was easier to envision Alberto on the waiver wire than the middle of the lineup.
Prior to the game in St. Louis, Alberto owned the team’s highest ground-ball rate (51.7 percent), and its lowest hard-hit rate (22.6 percent), walk rate (1.3 percent), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.568) among players with at least 30 plate appearances.
Alberto held down his roster spot anyway. Team-wide run production against left-handed pitching was hardly suffering despite his struggles; only three teams have scored more runs against lefties than the Dodgers.
Plus, Alberto’s presence in the clubhouse and the dugout ― usually from the top step on the days he did not play ― was a welcome dose of good cheer. And so the Dodgers waited.
Alberto believes the pain in his right knee was a byproduct of fatigue. He appeared in 150 games between the 2021 major league season (with the Royals) and the 2021-22 Dominican Winter League season, which ended February 3.
“I didn’t get much rest,” Alberto said. “Now I can go 100 percent and everything’s going to be better.”
SIGN OF THE TIMES
One day after the Dodgers alleged the Giants of relaying signs to their hitters from the first base coach’s box, Roberts did not condemn the behavior as crossing a line.
“(It’s) part of the game,” Roberts said. “If Tyler (Anderson, the Dodgers’ pitcher) is going to show the glove to the first-base coach (Antoan Richardson), and that’s a competitive advantage, then they should be able to take advantage of it. That’s on us. That’s gamesmanship.
“I have no problem with that. But what we can do is try to keep the coaches in the box, and that’s what we did (Friday) night.”
The rule was observed by the first- and third-base coaches on both sides Saturday. Giants manager Gabe Kapler denied the sign-stealing allegation when speaking to reporters after Friday’s game.
Third baseman Justin Turner will miss his third consecutive game Sunday because of an abdominal injury, Roberts said. The manager acknowledged “there’s a possibility” Turner will be placed on the 15-day injured list retroactively.
Outfielder Chris Taylor took batting practice on the field, but he hasn’t been cleared to run on flat ground since suffering a fractured bone in his left foot. Depending on his pain tolerance, however, Taylor could begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment next weekend.
Dustin May’s two-inning rehab start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday ended earlier than planned, but not for poor health. May allowed three hits and three walks, needing 49 pitches to record the six outs. Roberts said May threw 10 more pitches in the bullpen.
“It speaks to how far away he is,” Roberts said. “He feels good but you still have to command the baseball. I think part of it was his first time back on the mound seeing competition, so you can get a little overamped.”
Right-hander Blake Treinen (shoulder) threw his fifth bullpen since resuming his throwing program. Treinen threw all his pitches ― cutter, slider, sinker, 4-seamer ― during the 25-pitch session.
“Just one misfire, I think,” Treinen said. “I yanked a four-seamer, tried to go low and away. Other than that, everything commanded really well. Good action. Healthy, pretty aggressive with the arm. Not full tilt with my lower half. So there’s a lot of room and I knew it was really good. I was happy with it.”
Left-hander Andrew Heaney will be activated from the injured list in the days to come, and the Dodgers will use a six-man rotation for a short time, Roberts said. … Giants third baseman Evan Longoria left Saturdays’ game with a strained right hamstring. … Former Dodgers Ron Cey and Dave Stewart were inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.
RHP Alex Cobb (3-4, 4.09 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Clayton Kershaw, 7-2, 2.13 ERA), Sunday, 1 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM