LOS ANGELES ― Across Major League Baseball, there are players whose resumés qualify them as “journeymen.”
Then there’s Billy McKinney.
The 27-year-old outfielder has played for seven major league organizations since he was drafted by the Oakland A’s in 2013. He’s played for three teams this season alone. The New York Mets acquired him in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on May 26. The Dodgers acquired him from the Mets for minor leaguer Carlos Rincon on July 21.
Thanks to his frequent movement, McKinney has played against 21 of 30 major league teams this season ― including the three teams he’s played for.
What makes the Dodgers a special group?
“Obviously the reigning World Series champs,” McKinney said. “You can sense that urgency but calmness about the team, which is really cool to see and learn from every day. The guys have done it. They know what to do to get to the playoffs and win the World Series.
“I just try to take it all in. It’s a pleasure to watch and be a part of, too.”
McKinney, who got the start in right field Saturday against the Colorado Rockies, entered the game batting .202 in 107 games, including .174 in 28 games as a Dodger. The Dodgers like his superior plate discipline, which has led him to draw 14 walks in addition to his 12 hits.
McKinney has persisted despite his underwhelming batting line and the return to health of Mookie Betts, who he’s replaced most often in the field. The Dodgers want to conserve Betts’ energy by alternating him between right field and second base. McKinney provides an option in right field as well as a left-handed bat.
In fact, three left-handed hitters who were on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster ― Gavin Lux, Matt Beaty and Zach McKinstry ― were optioned to Triple-A in the last two weeks alone. The journeyman managed to outlast them all.
“He has been the consummate pro,” Manager Dave Roberts said of McKinney. “The at-bat quality has been good since he’s been here. The defense, the versatility has been very good. Love the way he prepares. He’s helped us win a lot of ballgames.”
During his professional playing career, Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior spent more time training to return from injuries than he did pitching. Few men are more qualified for the task of guiding a major league staff through the psychological rigors of the 2021 season.
Of the 11 Dodgers currently on the injured list, 10 are pitchers. Five aren’t expected to pitch again this season. Some are dealing with a long-term injury for the first time. It’s added up to a special challenge for all involved.
“There’s definitely a mental/emotional component to having physical injuries, especially when they’re prolonged injuries, whether you’re trying to pitch through them or whether it shuts you down ― say in Corey (Knebel)’s case ― for an extended period of time.”
In reaction to the injuries ― and to limit the healthy players’ workloads ― the Dodgers have used 37 different pitchers this season. Only two teams have used more. That’s a franchise record, with more than a month remaining in the season.
Historically, teams that cycle through players more frequently have underperformed relative to their rivals. To Prior, liberally exploiting the depth chart has been an asset.
“I think that’s the one thing that is nice,” Prior said. “We can tell these guys, ‘Look, we have patience.’ When we put guys out there, we want them to be convicted and confident in what they can do, and not having that slight reservation in the back of their head that they’re completely back. We want to make sure they feel completely healthy, and ready to go, and they feel their stuff’s in a really good spot like it would be coming out of spring training.”
Clayton Kershaw (elbow) could face live hitters early next week, Prior said. The left-hander threw a full bullpen session Friday and might throw a simulated game when he takes the mound next. … Tony Gonsolin (shoulder) is scheduled to pitch two simulated innings Monday at Dodger Stadium. … Mitch White is expected to be recalled to pitch against the Rockies on Sunday, either as the starter or the “bulk reliever.” White participated in bunting practice on the field with the Dodgers’ other starting pitchers Saturday.
Dodgers (TBD) vs. Colorado Rockies RHP Antonio Senzatela (2-9, 4.42 ERA), 1:10 p.m. Sunday, SportsNet LA, MLB Network, 570 AM