The Dodgers are putting the change-of-scenery theory to another test.
It’s one of their favorite, grounded in the notion that the team’s culture, coaching and cutting-edge analytics can restore underachievers to the best versions of themselves. Don Dodger blue and turn that frown upside down.
Look no further than Jason Heyward, J.D. Martinez and Kiké Hernández, veteran position players enjoying bounce-back seasons. Starter Lance Lynn has been a new man on the mound. A year ago pitchers Tyler Anderson, Chris Martin and Evan Phillips resuscitated their careers.
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Kolten Wong hopes to be next. The left-handed-hitting infielder was a surprise addition with rosters expanding from 26 to 28 players, called up from triple-A Oklahoma City. Wong didn’t start Friday night because Atlanta Braves starter Max Fried is left-handed, although he pinch-hit in the eighth inning against right-handed reliever Pierce Johnson and hit a three-run home run that accounted for the Dodgers’ only offense.
The Braves won, 6-3, at Dodger Stadium and maintained their pace to challenge the MLB record for home runs in a season, hitting three solo shots off Dodgers starter Julio Urías to give them 256 in 134 games.
The record of 307 was set in 2019 by the Minnesota Twins. The Dodgers are a distant second this season with 213.
Catcher Travis D’Arnaud was the only batter in the Braves lineup who hadn’t hit at least 10 home runs, and he hit his 10th in the second inning. Ronald Acuña Jr. hit his 31st in the third and Marcell Ozuna hit his 32nd in the fourth.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been impressed by the Braves’ offensive approach two games — and two losses — into the four-game series.
“They don’t miss the fastball and they don’t chase as much as I recall,” he said.
The Braves added two more runs in the fifth to chase Urías (11-8), whose fastball velocity was down and his ERA skyrocketing to 4.60.
“Some days it’s up and some days it’s down,” Urías said of his velocity. “I’m not worried about that. I’m trying to focus on making pitches. . . . I gave it my all, but I failed and now just have to pitch better the next time out.”
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Fried (6-1), who grew up in Santa Monica and attended Harvard-Westlake High, gave up only soft singles by Freddie Freeman, Miguel Rojas and Amed Rosario while striking out 10 over seven scoreless innings.
“He was really good,” Roberts said. “It’s 95-96 [mph]. Curveball thrown for a strike, down below for swing and miss. Then he started throwing changeups to the lefties. He was really good. We really didn’t have an answer for him.”
The Dodgers lost back-to-back games for the first time since July 28 and two in a row to the same opponent for the first time since losing at Kansas City the first two days of July.
Back then, Wong had no inkling he’d soon be in a Dodgers uniform. Since signing a minor league deal two weeks ago, he’s worked with coaches to rediscover the swing that produced 23 wins above replacement from 2014 to 2022 with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers picked up Wong’s $10-million team option last offseason, then traded him to the Seattle Mariners for Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro. Wong, 32, was an unabashed failure, batting .165 with two home runs in 216 plate appearances, and the Mariners released him Aug. 4.
“I’m excited to play for the Dodgers,” said Wong, who was born on the island of Hawaii and attended high school and college on Oahu. “I look at it as a fresh start.”
Roberts is intrigued. Wong is the third middle infielder the Dodgers have added since the trade deadline, joining the right-handed-hitting Hernández and Rosario. He also has played in 35 postseason games, although he’s batted just .188 with five home runs.
“Our guys cleaned up some things with [Wong’s] swing, so we feel that he’s back to the player he was a couple years ago, not too long ago,” Roberts said. “Just the experience he has makes him an interesting player.”
Wong was on the Dodger Stadium infield early Friday, listening to pointers from coach Dino Ebel, fielding ground balls and taking batting practice. Conspicuous in his absence was Miguel Vargas, the rookie the Dodgers handed the second base job to during spring training, only to see him fumble it away.
Billed a plus hitter, Vargas batted .195 in 256 plate appearances before being demoted to triple-A. He’s hit well there, batting .295 with a .410 on-base percentage, but it appears he’ll wait until spring to try to reclaim his starting spot.
Sheehan to get the ball
In addition to Wong, rookie right-hander Emmet Sheehan was added to the roster. Roberts said Sheehan will start Saturday against the Braves or pitch several innings in relief.
“He’ll pitch a lot [Saturday],” Roberts said.
Sheehan is 3-1 with a save and a 5.63 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. He pitched six no-hit innings in his debut against the San Francisco Giants on June 16 but was hit progressively harder, culminating in surrendering eight runs in 3-2/3 innings at Texas on July 23.
He followed that with two solid outings before being sent back to the minors Aug. 4. Like fellow rookie hurlers Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone, Michael Grove and Ryan Pepiot, Sheehan has impressed Roberts with his resilience.
“We feel great about each of them,” Roberts said. “The hope is you can protect them, they can come up, cut their teeth and have success. But that’s not always the way it goes. Each guy has got kicked in the teeth and responded well. So we are really proud and excited to see that.”
Read more: Kobe Bryant threw first pitch at Dodger Stadium in 2000. Now his daughter Natalia will in his honor
The entire Dodgers team wore either a purple No. 8 or gold No. 24 basketball jersey during a pregame ceremony honoring Kobe Bryant as part of the annual Lakers Night festivities. The Dodgers presented a check for $100,000 to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, a nonprofit whose stated mission is “creating positive impact for underserved athletes and boys & girls in sports.”
Two of Bryant’s daughters took part in the ceremony. Natalia, 20, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and Bianka, 6, told the sold-out crowd of 52,436, “It’s time for Dodger baseball!”
Natalia, a USC student and IMG model, is a year younger than her father was when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Dodgers’ game against the San Diego Padres on June 27, 2000.
“To see the Lakers fans and Dodgers fans come together, the energy was great,” Roberts said. “To see the [Bryant] family here was great. It was really emotional for a lot of people.”
After the game, fans crowded onto the outfield grass to view a video tribute to Bryant that was punctuated by a drone show.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.