Corey Dickerson looks to bounce back with Nationals


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Corey Dickerson came to the Washington Nationals searching for an opportunity. He had dealt with injuries the past two seasons. He felt he didn’t get the at-bats he needed to be successful. The Nationals, meanwhile, needed outfielders, and Dickerson represented a veteran who could improve their roster.

Dickerson has come out firing on all cylinders at spring training. He’s had five plate appearances and only seen six pitches total, but has three hits already. That success early has given him confidence.

“Once you do something, it’s in your memory bank,” said Dickerson, who signed a one-year deal with Washington in January. “I had a homer in live batting practice and just hitting that homer I know like, ‘okay, I got that feeling.’ It doesn’t matter (if it’s the) first game, last game of camp. Once you kind of get a hit, you feel it one time, you know it’s there … That’s all camp is. A lot of guys try to just remind themselves of who they are and what they’re capable of.”

If the first few days of camp are an indication, Dickerson is already sure of who he’ll be this year at the plate. Dickerson said he was at his best during his time in Colorado, where he spent his first three major league seasons.

Early in his career, he always felt in rhythm and never thought about his mechanics at the plate. But then he struggled in 2016 and began to question his approach. In the final two months of that season, though, he simplified things and saw improved results. The following season, he was an all-star with the Tampa Bay Rays.

From 2014 to 2019, Dickerson had an OPS+ of at least 100 (OPS+ takes on-base plus slugging percentage and normalizes it across the league; the league average is 100). He’s only had an OPS+ below 98 once in his 10-year career.

“Every player in (this clubhouse) competes against himself,” Dickerson said. “If you’re up here for a long time, it doesn’t mind how physically gifted you are, it has a lot to do with the mind. To have consistency over a long period of time is mental … It’s about how you take care of your business. The business you do every day creates the résumé for confidence. And if you don’t have that résumé, you won’t believe that you can do it when times get hard.”

Dickerson spent last season with the St. Louis Cardinals and was out of rhythm again; he was hitting .194 before he landed on the injured list with a left calf strain in early June. Once he returned in July, he hit .314 that month. He hit .411 in August before cooling off.

The Nationals have surrounded their young, unproven roster with experienced veterans who they expect to have bounce-back years. In addition to Dickerson, the Nationals also signed Jeimer Candelario and Dom Smith to one-year deals.

There’s a benefit for both sides — Dickerson gets a chance to put up the numbers he expects with everyday playing time. If he does that, the Nationals could trade him at the deadline to deepen their farm system. But that outcome doesn’t always pan out, as was the case last season for Washington.

Some have pointed to Dickerson’s power numbers as a possible sign of decline; he has hit 134 career home runs but only 19 over the last three seasons. But Dickerson thinks those numbers will return and he believes he still has a lot left in the tank.

Manager Dave Martinez called Dickerson a “professional hitter” who puts the ball in play and work long at-bats. That’s why he’s kept Dickerson toward the top of the lineup during spring training. That doesn’t always mean that’s where players will be slotted when the season opens; often, it is to get players as many at-bats as possible early in games.

“I think he understands his swing best of anybody that I’ve seen in a while,” Nationals hitting coach Darnell Coles said. “He also understands looking at other people’s swings if there’s any breakdowns there. So he’s another coach on the field. Great for us because he’s played on championship-level teams. … He’s gonna be great for our young guys.”

Dickerson said he’s ready to show he can compete at a high level. But he also feels like he has a bigger purpose to make an impact as a leader.

He’s been joking around with his teammates in the clubhouse. He’s taken extra reps in the field, even taking groundballs at second base Wednesday just to work on his fielding and agility. And he hopes to help his younger teammates garner confidence in their swings as well, something he might not have done when he was a young player.

“Everybody has to be selfish to play this game, but I was really locked in,” Dickerson said about himself early in his career. “Now, I’ve learned I can be there for guys and care for them, but also turn it on when I got to work, when I practice or go play.”

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