Dodgers' Teoscar Hernández hopes to add Home Run Derby to his bounce-back season

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Teoscar Hernández will be bringing his sunflower seed home run celebration to the All-Star Game next week.

Whether he’ll get the chance to swat some long balls of his own during the festivities in Arlington, Texas, however, remains to be seen.

After being selected to his second career All-Star team on Sunday, Hernández voiced his interest in participating in the league’s annual Home Run Derby as well, which will take place July 15, a day before the All-Star Game, at the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field.

“Yeah, yeah. Why not?” Hernández said when asked about his interest in the Derby following the Dodgers’ series finale loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. “Obviously, in my career, I wanted to be a part of it, see how it feels. Why not try to go for it and win everything?”

Hernández said it will be up to Major League Baseball to extend him an invitation — that decision is expected in the coming days — but his potential participation would be a fitting punctuation to his prodigious start to the 2024 season.

Entering play Monday, Hernández’s 19 home runs and 60 RBIs both ranked fifth in the National League. His .483 slugging percentage and .802 OPS were both top-20. And after signing a one-year, $23.5-million deal this offseason — a short-term bet on himself after a down 2023 campaign with the Seattle Mariners — Hernández has reestablished himself as one of the more potent sluggers in the game.

“I mean, yeah, a little bit,” Hernández said when asked if this season was more gratifying given his career-low production with the Mariners last year, when he had a .741 OPS that barely ranked above league average.

“A lot of people expected me to not perform well after last season,” Hernández added. “But in my mind, I was just working hard. I know the things that I know I can do on the baseball field. And, you know, when you work hard and you put a lot of things, a lot of effort in, good things happen at the end of the day.”

Hernández’s Derby interest flows from the same vein.

He knows hitting home runs is one of his strengths.

He would relish a national, league-wide stage on which to showcase it.

“I think he’d do just fine,” teammate Freddie Freeman said, laughing, when told of Hernández’s Derby hopes. “He can punish a baseball. If he wants to do it, I’ll put all my chips on him.”

So far, more stars have announced they’re not doing the Derby than those who have said they are.

Last week, Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani confirmed he was unlikely to participate, given the added risks he and the Dodgers feared it could create in his rehab as a pitcher from last year’s Tommy John surgery.

Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Juan Soto have also confirmed they won’t participate, while other possible big-name candidates like Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton are doubtful after suffering recent injuries.

As of Monday morning, only three of the Derby’s eight spots had been filled: Gunnar Henderson of the Baltimore Orioles, Alec Bohm of the Philadelphia Phillies and Pete Alonso of the New York Mets.

Henderson has 27 home runs this year, trailing only Ohtani and Judge for the MLB lead. Alonso is at 18, and has become a Derby hallmark since winning back-to-back editions of the event in 2019 and 2021.

Bohm, however, only has 11 home runs — reflecting the relatively shallow pool of big-name MLB sluggers that appear to be possibilities for this year’s showcase.

There are other names that would still make sense. Marcell Ozuna, José Ramirez and Rafael Devers are All-Star selections with at least 20 home runs this year. The host Rangers have one All-Star position player, Marcus Semien, as well as past Derby participant Adolis García. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the Derby’s defending champion.

Hernández, though, is hoping to bring his own flair to the competition.

He’s already well-known for his sunflower seed home run celebration, in which he showers teammates with handfuls of seeds when they return to the dugout after a big fly.

He’s been the recipient of more than enough seed showers himself to warrant a potential Derby place, on pace to surpass his previous career-high home run total of 32 (which he set in his only other All-Star season in 2021).

Most of all, he’s hoping to continue his bounce-back performance this year on a stage he’s never been on, waiting to see if his strong debut season with the Dodgers will also include a first career appearance in the Home Run Derby.

“He wants it … so hopefully it works out,” manager Dave Roberts said. “If he wants to go out there and hit a bunch of homers and make the fans go crazy, have at it.”

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