Entering this weekend, Zach McKinstry had made four trips to and from Oklahoma City this season, but only one trip to the plate in a big-league game.
As he was shuffled back and forth from the Dodgers’ triple A affiliate, the utility player usually had been needed by the Dodgers only as a warm body on the bench, sticking around for a couple days before being returned to the minors once the team figured out longer-term roster plans.
On Friday, however, the Dodgers were low on alternatives.
A day after announcing Kevin Pillar had suffered a left shoulder fracture, the team put Edwin Ríos on the injured list with a tear in his right hamstring. Eddy Alvarez was called up but didn’t arrive at the stadium until shortly before first pitch.
With the New York Mets starting right-hander Chris Bassitt on the mound, McKinstry was the only left-handed hitter remaining in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
They made him the designated hitter and put him eighth in the batting order.
Then in the fourth inning, they watched a sold-out crowd of 52,505 erupt in celebration as he lined a two-run home run into the right-field pavilion, a key blow in a game the Dodgers went on to win 6-1.
McKinstry’s blast wasn’t the only standout performance on Friday night.
Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson did the heaviest lifting, extending his scoreless innings streak over the last month to 26 by posting six more zeros against the second-highest-scoring club in the major leagues.
Leaning heavily again on a changeup that manager Dave Roberts joked has “parachute, Bugs Bunny” characteristics, the left-hander gave up just three hits, didn’t issue a single walk and struck out five while once again filling up the zone with strikes on 57 of 81 pitches.
Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor both hit their sixth home runs and Trea Turner extended his hitting streak to 26 games by going two for four with an RBI.
Amid a pride night celebration in which the Dodgers wore caps with rainbow-design logos for the first time in club history — they also recognized the family of the late Glenn Burke, a former Dodger who became MLB’s first openly gay former player — the team reclaimed the league’s best record from the Mets too, improving to 35-17.
Facing a sudden rash of injuries, however, contributions from depth players such as McKinstry might be what the Dodgers need most in the coming weeks. While Pillar was placed on the 60-day injured list Friday, Roberts said Ríos will miss at least “a handful of weeks” after “part of the tendon or the muscle came off the bone” in the slugger’s hamstring while he was trying to beat out a double play on Thursday night.
“I’m just really bummed out for Eddy,” Roberts said of Ríos, who had been receiving more playing in the wake of Max Muncy’s placement on the injured list last week. “He was off to such a nice start, so now to miss a handful of weeks, interrupt his season, I feel bad for him.”
McKinstry took advantage of the opportunity, looking more like the rookie sensation who hit nearly .300 last April than the hesitant hitter who slumped after returning from an oblique strain later in the summer, struggles that led McKinstry to be demoted back to the minor leagues to finish the season.
“He got a little too passive for me,” Roberts said Friday. “Early on, he was very dynamic, aggressive in the strike zone. Then I think that he hit a little lull. And a lot of times when guys start to struggle, they get passive.”
Despite his previously fruitless big-league cameos, McKinstry bounced back this season with a strong start in triple A, one of several Oklahoma City hitters swinging a hot bat of late.
It’s that group — which in addition to Alvarez includes veterans Jake Lamb, Stefen Romero, Jason Martin and Andy Burns, as well as prospects Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch — that gave Roberts confidence on Friday the Dodgers could weather their newfound roster uncertainty; that they could find the kind of reliable bench depth that too often eluded them last season.
“As far as raising the floor with our depth,” Roberts said, “we’ve done that.”
With one swing Friday night, McKinstry became example A.