If the Los Angeles Dodgers bounce all the way back from their tepid start and become a team to fear again, it won’t be because of that big free agent they landed over the winter or because Mookie Betts reinvented himself as a Gold Glove shortstop.

That big free agent doesn’t exist. And the only reason Betts is at short these days is because Trea Turner was hired away by the Philadelphia Phillies for $300 million and everybody else who plays the position for the Dodgers is hurt.

If that bounce-back comes, it’s more likely to be the result of a secret to success more historically  familiar to the Dodgers than any other franchise in Major League Baseball: another Rookie of the Year candidate.

In this case, it’s slugging left-hander James Outman — who wasn’t even assured a big-league job when spring training opened. But since making the club, he has provided the kind of boost to a defection- and injury-hampered lineup that arguably has been the difference in the Dodgers treading water at .500 as they opened a homestand Friday night against the even more struggling St. Louis Cardinals.

“I don’t think you can overstate [his contribution] up to this point,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think he was the last add to our roster to break camp. So to see his performance and to see him earn playing time and go out there and play well with big hits — he looks like a veteran out there as far as how he carries himself.”


Smashing debut for Dodgers’ rookie

Outman, a former college linebacker and tight end recruit who looks the part at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, dominated Triple-A last year and had a 6-for-13 big-league debut that included three extra-base hits in that four-game cameo.

What he’s done so far this season has not only outpaced the Cardinals’ more touted rookie outfielder, Jordan Walker, but has Outman looking like he’ll probably be named National League Rookie of the Month next week: .287 with seven home runs, 10 walks, a 1.011 OPS and a 1.1 bWAR that ranks second on the team.