Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw lifted the lid of the shiny blue box, and his former teammate Joc Pederson peered inside.
Pederson was back at Dodger Stadium on Thursday for the first time since signing with the Cubs in February. He reached into the box, pulled out his 2020 World Series ring, slipped it on his left hand and held his fist high. The fans roared.
Pederson left Los Angeles, and the only organization he’d played for since the Dodgers drafted him out of high school in 2010, for the chance to prove he could be more than a platoon player. Pederson returned to L.A. as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter and arguably hottest bat (.647 slugging percentage since June 8) in the past couple weeks.
“It’s definitely different,” Pederson said of being on the visitors’ side at Dodger Stadium, “but when you step out on the field, it’s a special feeling, an iconic stadium.”
As for whether Pederson, a left-handed batter, has proven he can hit southpaws, he’s hesitant to make any declarations this early in the year.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “I think we’re in a great spot, and the Cubbies are playing good. I’m doing what I can to contribute, to help win some ballgames. I feel good about it. There’s always room for improvements, and we’re always looking to get better, so you’ve got to just stay on course and stick to the process.”
Since returning from the injured list (left wrist tendonitis) in early May, Pederson is batting .300 in 30 at-bats against left-handed pitching.
“He’s had pretty good at-bats against lefties, right?” Ross said. “Some left-handed guys are tougher on lefties than others, right? Some guys have reverse splits. Some have a true four-seamer with a breaking ball. Talking to him, there are certain guys that give him a little more trouble than not. So, we try to identify those. We’re in constant communication about that and adjusting that.”
Days off against particularly tough lefties were all part of the plan that Pederson and Ross discussed before the outfielder signed. This winter, Pederson penned a heartfelt essay for the Player’s Tribune that outlined his free agency decision, including the higher offers he received.
“If I took that money, then that would be me accepting a part-time role as my identity as a baseball player,” he wrote. “That would be me confirming ‘part-time player’ as the ceiling of my career. And I wasn’t ready to do that.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs needed someone to replace left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who they’d non-tendered in December. They were pleasantly surprised when Pederson reached out.
Pederson and Schwarber’s offensive profiles were similar, but Pederson had a better track record against high heaters. Schwarber had hit lefties better (and seen them more often) in his career.
The change in scenery seems to be doing both outfielders some good.
On Thursday, Schwarber hit his eighth home run in a five-game span for the Nationals, tied for second-most in MLB history.
Pederson didn’t get to test his bat against a left-handed starter on Thursday. But the Dodgers are scheduled to start two southpaws this weekend: Julio Urías on Saturday and Kershaw Sunday. Ross said he hasn’t started looking at the series finale yet, but he expects Pederson will get the day off against at least one of the Dodger’s lefty starters.
Will Pederson face Kershaw, his longtime Dodger teammate and the guy who handed him his World Series ring on Thursday?
“We’re going to see how my body feels and whatnot and how the first three games go …,” Pederson said. “We’ll see what Rossy wants to do.”
Gordon Wittenmyer contributed to the reporting of this story from Los Angeles.