It was not uncommon to see Joc Pederson fielding ground balls during Spring Training and parts of the regular season over the last few years. But this week represented a bit of a change, as Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts closely watched Pederson’s work during batting practice at Dodger Stadium.
Roberts outlined a plan to have Pederson beginning to play some first base, primarily once the outfield became crowded with A.J. Pollock’s eventual return from elbow surgery. Roberts added he would look for a comfortable situation to have Pederson make his infield debut.
That presented itself in the eighth inning on Thursday night, when Pederson remained in the game after hitting a pinch-hit home run that extended the Dodgers’ lead over the San Francisco Giants to 9-4.
Naturally, the first ball put into play went to Pederson and took a tricky hop. He stayed with it, using Cody Bellinger’s glove, and recorded the unassisted putout. Pederson then was on the receiving end of a groundout to shortstop and sheepishly asked where his relay throw should go.
Those wound up being his only plays. “That was a pretty fun experience,” Pederson said of debuting at first base. “Getting comfortable as quick as possible. It was fun.”
As matters began to unravel in the fourth inning, the Dodgers summoned Kenley Jansen for an unexpected save situation and moved Bellinger to first base. Pederson went to to left field, which shifted Kyle Garlick over to right.
“Obviously, in that situation, first and second base, we’ve got three lefties potentially coming up, Kenley coming in, potential to pull the ball. We wanted to put Joc and the team in position to have success,” Roberts explained.
“You’ve got to kind of take into consideration the probability that the first baseman comes into play and put people where they’re most comfortable.”
The decision may have swung the game as Bellinger fielded a sacrifice bunt attempt and threw to third base to record the first out of the inning. It was the type of play an unexperienced first baseman may not have made.
Pederson may not reach the Gold Glove level of Bellinger, but he’s mindful of the importance to be a viable option at first base as it relates to playing time. “It just adds to the versatility,” Pederson said.
“With Bellinger’s shoulder, A.J. is a Gold-Glove center fielder, and Verdugo, if you want to play you kind of have to find a way. If that’s the open spot, then whatever I can do to get in the lineup.”
At minimum, Pederson’s first night could be considered a success. “He’s 1-for-1, best fielding percentage in the league,” Bellinger said.