The Check-In: Dodgers' Kiké Hernández hits colored balls with a rosy outlook

Jorge Castillo
Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernández takes a break during batting practice.  (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kiké Hernández has dabbled in a bit of everything the last six weeks with so much unexpected free time on his hands.

The animated Dodgers utility man and his wife, Mariana, have binge-watched shows on every streaming platform at their home in Phoenix. They’ve played catch — with tennis balls because he isn’t comfortable throwing a hard baseball to her quite yet. They’ve gone on bike rides on their beach cruisers and therapeutic walks with their two small dogs, Bruce Wayne and Arizona.

He started strumming a guitar. He’s listened to Bad Bunny’s #YHLQMDLG album “867 times” and recently watched a four-hour Instagram Live battle between two pioneering reggaeton producers, Tainy and Luny. He bought "MLB The Show 20," played the video game for two days, got bored and tossed it aside. He had, at one point, 13 fake tattoos on his body to complement a thick mustache he intends to keep at least until the stay-at-home restrictions are over and maybe into the major league season — if there is one.

“We're having fun, actually,” Hernández said in an interview. “We’re trying to make the best of it.”

Hernández, 28, is also preparing for a possible 2020 Major League Baseball season, in whatever form it takes. He said he is treating this unusual period as if it were early January during a typical offseason. The workouts aren’t long, but they’re heavy.

He is hitting twice a week at a batting cage with teammate Cody Bellinger, Dodgers co-hitting coach Brant Brown and Texas Rangers catcher Blake Swihart. They have access to the facility because Swihart knows the owner. Having Brown around, he said, makes a difference.

“Brownie’s always willing to work,” Hernández said. “He’s a lab rat for the cage and we’re lucky to have him here. Otherwise, we’d just buy a net and hit off a tee, I guess.”

At home, he bought a machine that shoots different colored golf-sized plastic balls for vision drills. The goal is to swing at certain colors and avoid swinging at the others.

“It throws fuzz,” he said.

There’s plenty motivating Hernández. He plays on one of the most talented teams, a favorite to win the National League pennant in 2020 and overcome recent disappointment to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1988. There was a palpable excitement in camp before spring training was suspended March 12. The Dodgers were healthy and confident.

He also has a financial incentive. This is the final year before Hernández hits free agency in search of generational financial security. This season should be a chance to convince clubs around the majors, if not the Dodgers themselves, that he can provide the consistency to match his prized skill set and be a capable everyday player — and be paid like one.

Hernandez, in his last year of arbitration, was set to make $5.9 million this season, nearly doubling his career earnings.

“It's probably the biggest year of my career without a doubt,” he said. “I guess it’s the year you prepare for your entire life, so it was exciting to think about it that way.”

Now it might not happen at all. If it does, players might not make full pro-rated salaries — the league and union are at odds over that point. They could also be quarantined from family while playing games without fans. Hernández said he’s fine with playing in a bubble.

“I think that's going to be a little harder on my wife just sitting here at the house by herself,” Hernandez said. “The way I think about it is people got it a lot worse and they don't get millions of dollars to do it.

"At the end of the day, we were put in a weird situation, weird circumstance, but we would [give] people something to look forward to. They're stuck at home all day. Might as well watch live baseball and cheer from home. And hopefully they cheer so loud we can hear them at the stadium.”