Dodgers Trust Gavin Lux To Help Keep Their Season Alive: ‘I Loved The Heartbeat, The Composure’

LOS ANGELES—From the beginning, Gavin Lux’s highly anticipated rookie year did not go as planned.

Lux entered 2020 as the No. 4 prospect in baseball and had an eye on winning the Dodgers starting second base job in spring training, only to return home to Wisconsin when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport. He arrived late to summer camp for undisclosed reasons and played catch-up the rest of the year, never quite getting his swing in sync or up to game speed. He appeared in only 19 games, hit .175, and was left off the roster in three of the Dodgers’ four playoff series, including the World Series.

Lux came back this year determined to show his poor rookie showing was a fluke and not a reflection of his true talent level. After stepping up for the Dodgers at key points throughout the season, he showed what he’s capable of on a national stage Tuesday to help keep the Dodgers’ season alive.

Lux made his first start of the postseason and reached base in all four of his plate appearances, helping the Dodgers stave off elimination and beat the Giants, 7-2, in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Game 5 is Thursday in San Francisco.

Lux led off the second inning with a single and scored on a sacrifice fly, worked a full-count walk to load the bases in the third inning, led off the fifth with another walk to set the table for another Dodgers run and added a single in the seventh. He did it all while making only his seventh career start in center field, a position he only started playing the final week of the season.

“I think I just loved the heartbeat, the composure,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think that just watching him take at-bats, it’s like a guy that’s played in the postseason much more than he has. Results withstanding, he had a big night. But I think how he’s kind of conducted himself in this setting is very telling.”

Lux, 23, has been one of the Dodgers hottest hitters since returning from a brief stint in Triple-A in early September. He hit .375/.474/.521 with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) in his final 15 games to close out the regular season. He nearly delivered a game-tying, pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 of the NLDS, only to have the wind in center field knock it down. He was rewarded with the start in Game 4 and, in light of his performance, will be back in the starting lineup in the winner-take-all Game 5, Roberts confirmed.

It’s a stark difference from a year ago, when Lux was relegated to the taxi squad and watched as a spectator as the Dodgers won their first World Series in 32 years.

“Last year was definitely a grind,” Lux said. “Mentally, physically. It sucked, to be honest. After I got optioned, my whole mindset was just try to get back here and help the team win and try to make the postseason roster. That’s really been the whole mindset as soon as I got back here. Just be on base and take good at-bats and try to make the roster, honestly.”

That Lux has found his hitting stroke isn’t a surprise. A career .304 hitter in the minors, he won BA’s Minor League Player of the Year award in 2019 on the strength of his offensive potential. Even during his lowest points last year, Dodgers officials expressed confidence that given regular playing time and a more normal season, Lux would live up to his lofty projections as a premium hitter.

The surprise has been Lux’s performance defensively. A middle infielder his entire career, Lux has played the outfield exclusively since returning from Triple-A in September, first in left field before making his first six appearances in center the final week of the season.

It hasn’t always been perfect. Lux left midway through the game on Sept. 29 after he crashed hard into the wall trying to make a running catch and missed the next three games.

Still, he showed enough for Roberts to put him back out in center with the Dodgers on the brink of elimination in Game 4, and he handled the assignment without issue.

“I think it’s more of just, I trust the person,” Roberts said. “He’s a baseball player, and if I felt that the moment would get to him and in this situation, not as much experience out there, then I would kind of rethink it. But I just feel that he can handle whatever situation I can put him in. This has been a big, big run here for Gavin.”

Lux, for his part, said he prefers center field to the corners, even with the added responsibility and difficulty the position brings.

“Center field is definitely a little more comfortable being in the middle of the field,” he said. “Second, short, center, I feel like the reads off the bat are a little bit better compared to the corners.

“It’s been a big adjustment. I’ve never really played out there before so a lot of early work. It’s been a little bit of a grind, but it’s been fun.”

Now, the Dodgers and Giants will conclude the first postseason series in their storied rivalry with a winner-take-all Game 5. Roberts said he still has not decided exactly what position Lux will play, especially given the size of Oracle Park’s outfield and difficult angles it presents even for the most experienced center fielders.

But the change in Lux’s status is notable. He is playing so well the Dodgers are determined to find a spot for him in the lineup in their biggest game of the season. Given what transpired last year, that’s perhaps the greatest testament yet to how far Lux has come.

“He’ll be in there somewhere,” Roberts said. “It’s a bigger ballpark, there is more real estate. I think it just boils down to you either trust a guy out there or you don’t. Or he either makes a play or he doesn’t. He’ll be in there. I just don’t know where.”

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