PHOENIX — An extra lengthy spring training has followed a long two years for Scott Van Slyke, who is finally healthy and, slowly but surely, finding his way back.
The slugging outfielder and first baseman dealt with inflammation in his back in 2015, then in 2016 was even more limited. He missed 49 games near the beginning of the season with more back problems, then missed the final 50 games of the year with right wrist irritation.
Those injuries sapped much of the production from Van Slyke, who hit .235/.310/.361 with seven home runs in 366 plate appearances over the last two years. That’s a far cry from the Van Slyke who hit .276/.369/.501 with 18 home runs in 398 PA in 2013-2014.
That wrist injury required surgery, a procedure Van Slyke opted to have in early September last year. After talking with former Cardinals and now Cubs outfielder Jon Jay, who underwent a similar procedure, Van Slyke figured there would be three months of recovery that he didn’t want to carry over into camp at Camelback Ranch.
“I didn’t want to have those lingering effects during spring,” Van Slyke said.
But even though he is healthy, this spring has been a methodical struggle for Van Slyke to return to form. He has hit .275/.325/.434 in Cactus League play entering Wednesday, but it has been more about trying to recapture his approach from when he was healthy.
“I feel like this year is a little bit mechanical. I heard Brandon [McCarthy] talk about his competition muscle, and that’s an awesome way to put it,” Van Slyke said. “When I get in the box, I think about where my hands are and working on things in the box.
“During the season, I’m going up there and trying to smack this ball as hard as I can. There is a weird dichotomy in spring of teaching yourself things over again and reinforcing them, and also going out there and playing.”
Results aside, which haven’t been bad, the Dodgers are pleased with Van Slyke so far at the plate this spring.
“I think it’s more now realizing that he’s healthy, and he’s just got to go out there and compete. But I do like the at-bat quality,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We still have some games to play, to get him to feel good. Sometimes with hitters it just takes one at-bat, and it gets you locked in.”
A healthy and productive Van Slyke fits a lot of needs for the Dodgers. He’s a right-handed complement to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, and a career .262/.366/.479 hitter against southpaws, one of the Dodgers’ biggest weaknesses in 2016.
He can also play the outfield, including center field in a pinch if needed.
“I trust him defensively anywhere on the field,” Roberts said.
Van Slyke is also fighting for a roster spot, with Rob Segedin making a strong impression after making his major league debut last season. Segedin also adds the ability of playing third base to the mix.
After two patient years of fighting through injuries, Van Slyke is hoping the Dodgers will show him some patience as he rounds into form this spring.
“I want to drive the ball and hit it over the fence, and I know that will come. It’s just contact point, and seeing a few more pitches,” Van Slyke said. “I know what I bring defensively. I can play left well, I can play right well, I can play first well. I think they know that, and I hope they know it was going to take me a little more time to get ready offensively.”
For what it’s worth, Van Slyke said that on Sunday. He is 3-for-5 with a double, a walk, and two stolen bases since. Maybe something has clicked for him.