Steven Souza Jr. looking to make the most of his comeback lifeline with Dodgers

Steven Souza Jr. looking to make the most of his comeback lifeline with Dodgers

More than two years have passed since Steven Souza Jr. suffered the grisly left-knee injury that nearly ended his career, and the 32-year-old outfielder still can’t bring himself to click on a replay of it.

“Never — I won’t watch it,” said Souza, who was recalled by the Dodgers and started in right field against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night. “I just don’t feel like I need to.

“I can visualize it in my head plenty, you know, being there and experiencing it. Every time I cross home plate I can feel it a little bit. My dad tried to show it to me the next day, and I almost threw him off my couch.”

Souza was playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks when he stepped awkwardly on home plate and collapsed during an exhibition game at Chase Field in Phoenix on March 25, 2019.

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Souza’s knee buckled so badly that his left leg, on slow-motion replay, took on the shape of a right parenthesis. He was carried off the field by two trainers and underwent season-ending surgery to repair three torn ligaments.

It took Souza 15 months to rehabilitate the knee. He returned in late-July 2020 to play 11 games for the Chicago Cubs, batting .148 (four for 27) with one homer and five RBIs. Souza went to spring training with Houston this season but was let go after notching two hits in 21 at-bats.

But the Dodgers threw him a lifeline, signing Souza as a minor league free agent on April 12, and after a month at minor league camp and the alternate training site and a month at triple-A Oklahoma City, where he hit .284 (19 for 67) with six homers and 16 RBIs in 21 games, Souza was back in the big leagues Wednesday.

“When I got [designated for assignment] by the Astros, I thought it was over for me, and I started thinking about what I was going to do,” Souza said. “But [the Dodgers] talked me out of it to let me know that it was still in there and they believed it.

“When you struggle with an injury for a couple years and you’re not doing what you’re used to doing, eventually you start to think, maybe I can’t do this anymore. But this organization put the belief back in my heart.”

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound, right-handed-hitting Souza also missed about half of the 2018 season with Arizona because of injuries — one of them a torn pectoral muscle suffered on a dive in the outfield.

But he had three solid seasons for Tampa Bay from 2015 to 2017, batting .238 with a .753 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 63 homers and 167 RBIs in 378 games, including a 30-homer, 78-RBI season in 2017.

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Steven Souza Jr. lies on the field in agony after sustaining a knee injury while with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Steven Souza Jr. lies on the field in agony after sustaining a leg injury during a spring training game with Arizona Diamondbacks in March 2019.

(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

“The play at home plate was a freak accident, the dive where I tore my pec was a freak accident, but the last healthy year I played was 2017, and that’s what I know I’m capable of doing,” Souza said. “I’m not Mike Trout or anything, but the league knows what I’m capable of.”

Souza isn’t expected to win a starting job with the Dodgers, but with sluggers Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager all on the injured list, he could provide some pop at the corner outfield spots and off the bench.

No matter how he performs with the Dodgers, Souza is convinced he made the right choice to sign with an organization that has a reputation of revitalizing the careers of struggling players such as Muncy, Chris Taylor and Justin Turner.

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“This organization has a really good track record of taking the time to invest in getting guys back to where they’ve been,” Souza said. “There’s plenty of guys on this field who have done that. I was willing to join the party and put my full trust in this organization.”

Souza credited Dodgers hitting coaches Robert Van Scoyoc, Brant Brown and Chris Antariksa, triple-A manager Travis Barbary and coaches Manny Burriss and Bill Haselman with repairing the mechanical flaws in his swing.

He praised Dodgers assistant general manager Brandon Gomes, a former Rays teammate, and player development directory Will Rhymes for showing confidence in him.

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“I think Will Rhymes said it best,” Souza said. “I feel like I’ve been kind of treading water the last couple of years, and they threw me a raft and allowed me to breathe. … I’m 100% [healthy]. I’ve been there at times over the last few years, but this is the first time where every single day I come to the park and feel awesome.”