Trayce Thompson’s three home run rekindles the confidence he never lost

After being stuck on the bench for the first two games of the season this week, Trayce Thompson didn’t want to leave in the bottom of the eighth inning on Saturday night.

The outfielder just had a career night at the plate; Madison Bumgarner, who started with a first-inning grand slam for the Dodgers, followed it up in the fifth with a three-run bomb that put the team’s 10-1 victory within reach, and ended with an eighth-inning moonshot. to the middle of the left field pavilion.

And like his first two big flies, Thompson’s final long ball brought out a crowd of 48,886 at Dodger Stadium.

Only this time, the cheering didn’t end when Thompson disappeared into the frame.

The screams didn’t stop as he made his way to his seat.

Seven years after he first slipped in Dodger blue and became an instant fan favorite, 10 months after he was unceremoniously cut after five injury-riddled seasons, Thompson resurrected his career with the club last season after returning to Chavez Ravine. The 32-year-old walker was begged to make a cloth.

And after being bullied by teammates Freddie Freeman and Tony Gonsolin, Thompson stepped up.

“That doesn’t happen a lot,” Thompson said. “So that was really cool.”

Thompson’s brief appearance with the Dodgers in 2016, mostly spent six seasons bouncing around the minor leagues, was a reflection of the mindset that helped him return to the majors with the Dodgers last summer.

A straight-forward, down-to-earth, seemingly blind-side approach that he maintains even after being reinstated to the majors after returning to the organization last June.

“Trayce is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, he grinds it out day in and day out,” Clayton Kershaw said with a smile. “So it’s really fun to see him succeed after the journey he’s had.”

Added catcher Austin Barnes, one of Thompson’s longtime playing buddies: “He’s usually a shy guy. But that was a special moment.”

Thompson’s position coming out of spring training made it even more significant.

Despite batting .268 last season with 13 home runs, 39 RBI and a .901 OPS in 74 games — key contributions to a Dodgers team working around the struggles of Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger in the outfield — Thompson slipped back into a platoon role. to start this season, he was expected to open the year as a part-time starter and get the majority of his playing time against left field.

The only problem: Thompson struggled surprisingly against southpaws in 2022, posting a .621 OPS, nearly half his mark in right-handed games.

It was a mistake the slugger tried to correct this spring, both in Cactus League games with the Dodgers and in an appearance with Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic.

However, Thompson slumped for most of camp, collecting just three hits in 35 at-bats and going 0-for-14 against lefties.

“I’m probably the worst player here in spring training, I would imagine,” Thompson said. “I felt like I was in a good place. The results were nothing.”

That changed on Saturday in his first trip to the plate.

Trayce Thompson hits a slam on Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner in the first inning Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

While Thompson said he hasn’t hit Bumgarner well in his career, he saw the left-hander a lot in practice in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization during the 2020 season.

So with the bases loaded, two outs and a run already on the board when he came to the plate in the opening frame, he calmly took a curveball to first before jumping into the next offering — Bumgarner left the changeup hanging up the middle. .

“I try to keep it simple, not think too much, not do too much,” Thompson said. “I think that approach, especially against those really good guys, really established guys, I usually work well.”

It was the second grand slam of Thompson’s career, and far from the last point of his storybook night.

Facing Arizona right-hander Kevin Ginkel with two on and two outs in the fifth inning, Thompson again waited for his pitch. He took his first hat on dirt. He left a slider off the plate. Then, anticipating a fastball in a hitter’s count, he launched an elevated four-seamer 417 feet into left-center field.

“To me, I think the best hitters in baseball hit the fastball the best,” Thompson said. “So that second one felt pretty good.”

It was the third home run, however, that created the most sentimental reaction.

While Thompson saw curtain-raiser moments during the first round with Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, the Los Angeles native never imagined cheering for that Dodger Stadium, not even since the eighth-inning blast became the third baseman. franchise history to have a three-homer, eight-RBI game.

“You don’t have to think ‘Oh man, I hope I get a curtain call,'” Thompson said. “I was happy to hit another ball hard.”

Thompson didn’t expect long crowds. He took a couple of steps up the stairs of the box, quickly waved his right hand in the air and then returned to the chair.

“Trayce is not a self-promoter,” said Dave Roberts. “But…he won that curtain call.”

Also, a little more from Roberts.

With a right-hander lined up for the Diamondbacks’ outfield on Sunday, Thompson was initially returned to the bench for the end of the four-game series.

The entirety of his dazzling debut, however, ultimately forced the director’s hand.

“If you hit three homers,” Roberts said with a laugh, “you’re in the next day.”

When he was told the news, Thompson happily accepted, hoping to turn Saturday’s outing into a performance that seemed to set the tone for the season.

“Everybody knows my journey, and it’s been a long journey, so to come back here means a lot to me,” Thompson said. “But like I said, I always have belief and conviction in me, so I know I can have nights like this. I’m thankful that tonight was one of those nights.”

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