So far this season, Edwin Ríos’ biggest challenge has been simply staying ready, trying to keep himself sharp between sporadic starts.
Lately, Ríos has been handed a different task.
With starts in six straight games, and 10 of the last 18, the left-handed slugger is simply trying to stay hot.
“Feels good knowing when you come to the field you’re gonna play,” said Ríos, whose recent stretch of playing time came after getting only five starts in the first 27 games. “Definitely soaking it in and trying to take advantage of it.”
Ríos did so Friday, hitting an early three-run home run that keyed the Dodgers’ 6-4 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Friday was only Ríos’ second start this season against a left-handed starting pitcher, batting ninth against familiar Dodgers foe Madison Bumgarner.
In his first at-bat in the second inning, Ríos fell behind in the count 1-and-2. But when Bumgarner threw a high heater on the next pitch, Ríos connected with an explosive swing, launching a high fly ball that peaked in the air at 101 feet before sailing into the visiting bullpen for a three-run homer.
It was Ríos’ sixth home run of the campaign, second most on the team.
“I was just able to get my barrel to it,” said Ríos, who also drew a walk. “Watched it go.”
The Dodgers (31-14), who were without manager Dave Roberts as he attended his daughter’s high school graduation, hit two other homers against Bumgarner.
Mookie Betts went deep in the next at-bat, moving back into sole possession of the National League home run lead with his 13th of the year. Trea Turner added another solo shot in the sixth inning before adding an RBI single in the seventh.
It all provided breathing room for rookie right-handed starter Ryan Pepiot, who gave up one run in 4-1/3 innings against the Diamondbacks (23-24) in his third major league start.
Once again, Pepiot showed improvement, throwing his fastball with more consistent command to set up his secondary pitches on a night he racked up five strikeouts.
“Mechanically it felt a lot better,” Pepiot said. “And even when I did miss, I feel like I was able to come back and make a pitch.”
There were some nervous moments for the Dodgers at the end of the game, when closer Craig Kimbrel gave up two runs in the ninth and had to get three straight outs with the tying run at the plate.
Ríos and the rest of the lineup, however, had done enough to stake the bullpen to a large lead.
“I know we didn’t hit a whole lot,” Betts said, “but Trea and Eddie kind of carried us through the day.”
Pitching coach Mark Prior said Clayton Kershaw, who has been on the injured list the last two weeks with joint inflammation in his lower back, played catch up to 135 feet Friday and could be days away from throwing off a mound.
“We’re starting to finally see that progression of our build to where we can start envisioning getting on the mound sooner than later now,” Prior said.
Reliever Tommy Kahnle, on the other hand, is facing a longer absence because of an injury to his right elbow.
Kahnle made only four appearances in his return from Tommy John surgery before going back on the injured list this month.
“It’s been a slow recovery from him to try to get to a point where they feel comfortable about kind of taking that next step,” Prior said. “I think that’s just a big TBD on a lot of fronts right now.”
Blake Treinen talks extension
Blake Treinen still doesn’t know exactly when he’ll be back on the mound for the Dodgers, as he continues to battle a shoulder injury.
But the reliever felt some relief last week, when his contract for next year was guaranteed with a one-year, $8-million extension and a conditional option for 2024.
“I guess it’s just maybe a testament to both parties enjoying that we’re on the same side here,” Treinen said.
“I loved being in L.A. I love the organization, teammates, and I love winning. And I’m thankful that they view me as a piece moving forward.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.