Miguel Rojas is back with the Dodgers. The team struck a trade with the Marlins on Wednesday, sending minor league shortstop Jacob Amaya for the services of the veteran defensive specialist who will make $5 million in 2023.
Gavin Lux is this team’s shortstop. The Dodgers acquired Rojas to strengthen their depth. If there is anything we learned about this team in recent years, and one of the keys to its success, is that it is always ready to replace any player that goes down with an injury, with another capable, even if lesser option.
Chris Taylor could play short in a pinch, in fact, that’s where he started, but other than the prospects without much MLB experience, there wasn’t a lot behind Lux on the depth chart at that shrtstop. Now there is.
With that aside, I’d like to talk about what I think about when I see Miguel Rojas’ name. The former Dodger carved out a very solid MLB career with the Marlins, maximizing his defensive value, and becoming one of the leaders of that young team.
Rojas tenure with the Dodgers was very short, playing just one season in the majors with the team back in 2014. He produced some of the more horrific hitting stats you have ever seen. Over 162 plate appearances, Rojas had four extra-base hits, leading to a .221 slugging percentage. That’s right, .221.
However, that isn’t what comes to memory when thinking about Rojas. I’m taken back to a fateful June evening at Dodger Stadium. The Rockies rolled into town, and Clayton Kershaw was slated to pitch.
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer tossed the most dominant baseball outing this side of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs back in 2014 wrote about how those two games stand out, the only two times a pitcher had a game score of 102 or better.
Most people remember Hanley Ramirez’s miscue, which cost Kershaw the shot at a perfect game, but not long after that, Miguel Rojas made the play of the night, back-handing a Troy Tulowitzki grounder, and throwing out the Rockies’ shortstop from the lip of the outfield grass in foul territory.
But Miguel Rojas wasn’t really even supposed to be there, in a way.
Back in 2014, Juan Uribe was the regular third baseman for the Dodgers. Justin Turner was the primary backup, as the red menace was coming into his own as a hitter in his first year in Los Angeles, and still moving around the infield a bit. Chone Figgins was another veteran earning regular reps.
So, if Rojas was the fourth option (he only played 19 games at 3B all year long), then why was he starting at third that night?
Juan Uribe was on the injured list, having suffered a strained right hamstring in late May. It wouldn’t be the only IL stint for Uribe that year, and in the middle of his most productive hitting season (career-high 120 OPS+), he wasn’t available.
With Uribe out, the Dodgers were rotating between Chone Figgins, Justin Turner at third base, and even Jamie Romak got a start three days prior to Kershaw’s no-hitter.
Chone Figgins then went down with a quad strain that put him on the injured list on June 14. He started two of the previous three Dodger games at third base, and that June 13 game against the Diamondbacks was the last one of Figgins’ career.
With Uribe and Figgins both out, and Turner still being used as more of a super utility player, and not the regular man at third we came to know in the coming seasons, the Dodgers needed someone to play third, and that someone was Rojas.
Rojas made his major league debut against the Rockies in Denver twelve days earlier, and he played in eight of his first 10 games on the active roster, starting two games each at third base and shortstop. He started all three games against the Rockies at third base, including the finale on June 18, with Kershaw on the mound.
It’s likely that no other realistic option that Don Mattingly could have played at third base would have made that play, but Rojas did, and it saved Kershaw’s no-no.
It is a moment more or less, lost in history, but with Rojas returning to Chavez Ravine, that’s the moment I’ll always go back to when thinking about him.