Freddie Freeman grand slam powers Dodgers vs. D-backs

Freddie Freeman grand slam powers Dodgers vs. D-backs
Freddie Freeman grand slam powers Dodgers vs. D-backs

LOS ANGELES — Through 50 games, the Dodgers are one of the best teams in the Majors. Their pitching has been stellar, especially lately. Their lineup, powered by career starts by Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani, have helped the club live up to lofty expectations.

All of that success for the Dodgers has come despite Freddie Freeman not fully heating up at the plate. Over the last few weeks, though, Freeman has started to look more like the player who has done nothing but hit since joining the Dodgers in 2022.

One of his most impactful swings of the season came on Monday, as the 2020 National League Most Valuable Player hit the sixth grand slam of his career to power the Dodgers to a six-run third inning in a 6-4 series-opening win over the D-backs at Dodger Stadium.

“I think the thing about Freddie is the consistent way he goes about things,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Good or bad, he shows up and competes every day. So you know every night he’s going to give you four or five good at-bats.”

Freeman has now hit safely in 22 of his last 28 games, including five of his last seven. Kiké Hernández led off the third with a homer and Will Smith followed Freeman’s slam with his own homer — the Dodgers’ second back-to-back homers of the season — in that decisive six-run outburst.

That was enough support for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was solid again, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out eight over 6 1/3 innings. It was the first time in his Major League career that Yamamoto threw 100 pitches in a start.

When taking a quick look at Freeman’s numbers this season, it’s nearly impossible to tell that he’s felt off at the plate. After his grand slam on Monday, Freeman has five homers, a .298 batting average and an OPS of .873. Freeman leads all qualifying first basemen in average, and trails only Bryce Harper and his .889 OPS.

Even with those numbers, Freeman, who is on his way to a likely Hall of Fame career because of what he’s capable of at the plate, is the first to say he hasn’t felt quite right all season long.

“Feels like I’ve been treading water all year,” Freeman said. “When I look at the numbers, they’re OK. Just kind of waiting for the really, really hot streak. But ultimately, my swing has been feeling a little bit better.”

Freeman’s routine before games, one he takes pride in, has changed at times. As he worked through some mechanical issues last month, the star first baseman would take more batting practice in the cage. At one point, Freeman spent about a week taking batting practice on the field, something he usually only does when he’s searching for a feel.

Recently, though, Freeman has found something. The power is starting to come back, as he has hit three of his five homers in May. The latest was welcomed by loud “Freddie!” chants from the home crowd. Freeman then emerged from the dugout for a curtain call, sporting a big smile.

“It’s nice,” Freeman said of the curtain call. “We’re working every day, grinding every day, and when fans appreciate the little things in the games, when we’re all playing and trying to get the win, it feels good.”

Freeman chants have become the norm at Dodger Stadium over the last two-plus seasons, and with the slugger starting to look a lot more like himself again, that could spell bad news for the rest of the National League.

“This year he hasn’t really had a hot streak yet,” Roberts said, “but he’s still managing to be a very productive hitter. Tonight was a really good night for him. I know it felt good to drive in four runs. Even when he’s a guy who’s searching as he’s been, he’s still an elite hitter.”

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