CINCINNATI -- At a pivotal point in a pivotal game, the team with the $239 million payroll took its chances with the bats of Tim Federowicz and Miguel Rojas. It had Drew Butera and Jamie Romak on the bench, standing by.
To the surprise of few, things didn’t work out well during a 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds Thursday afternoon. Don Mattingly took his one big shot, using Scott Van Slyke to pinch hit, he struck out and it was pretty much time to board the charter flight home.
No knock on those players, by the way. They’re all young guys hungry to get a major-league foothold. Give them enough at-bats and they might prove serviceable at this level, but their track records haven’t exactly hinted at MVP seasons to come.
The Dodgers are at a moment in their season where they’d like very much to hit, “Go,” and instead they keep rolling a “No.” All the momentum of a fast start to this road trip sort of fizzled when they lost the last two games in Cincinnati, shut down by Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon. You can blame a lot of things, but you’d be crazy not to look in the trainers’ room for the main answer.
Pluck four everyday players off any team in the majors and see how much momentum they can generate. The Dodgers, for the moment, are without Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Juan Uribe and, for the next couple of games at least -- and maybe a whole lot more -- Hanley Ramirez.
They’re playing significantly shorthanded, but are they also playing significantly short of maximum effort? Reds utility man Skip Schumaker told the Cincinnati Enquirer his team felt “lucky” to have missed some of the Dodgers’ regulars in this series, but he also questioned some Dodgers players desire to play.
“We're lucky we got the split against a very good team over there -- that's a very talented, dangerous team,” Schumaker said. “That lineup is very good. When certain guys want to play, it's even better.”
Ramirez got a shot of strong anti-inflammatory medicine in his right shoulder Wednesday. There is a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before he can play again. So, he could be back as soon as Saturday, but Matt Kemp went down a similar path with the same injury last season and wound up spending time on the disabled list. The way the Dodgers have misled the media and their fans about injuries all season suggests Ramirez might not be back any time soon.
Ellis figures to be activated Friday. So, that will help. Uribe and Crawford seem like they’ll be out for at least another week.
So, much as their fans might want them to get hot right now, with the San Francisco Giants finally showing signs of slowing, they’re being pretty honest that it may not happen, not for a while.
“I mean, people expect us to win every game, win 10 games in a row,” Zack Greinke said. “It’s possible, but I mean we’re over .500, I think we’re in the playoffs as of now. We can do better, but jumping all over everyone when we’re facing the second-best team in baseball right now, the Giants, and doing what we can...Like I said, you can’t win 10 games in a row every time.
“We’ll go on a streak, but we’ll probably go on another bad streak, too, before the season’s over.”
There will be the usual flurry of angry tweets about Mattingly’s late-game moves. With runners at the corners and nobody out in the seventh, he let Federowicz and Rojas bat and neither could advance a runner 90 feet. Then, with two outs, he pinch-hit Van Slyke for Greinke, who was rolling and had thrown just 72 pitches. Van Slyke struck out.
Hitting for Rojas made more sense in one regard, because a fly ball would have tied the game then. But using Van Slyke would have basically emptied Mattingly’s bench since Chone Figgins would have had to play shortstop; and Mattingly didn’t view Figgins as more likely to hit a deep fly ball than Rojas, so he didn’t use him in that spot either.
Once again, the wrong personnel make a manager look bad.
So, Mattingly just has to wait for some players to come back and hope that, by the time they do, his team has enough to run down the Giants. Relying on the wild card seems a silly thing to do for a team this expensive, this packed with expectations and pressure.
He saw the cliff his lineup fell off after Andre Ethier Thursday and he’d like to stay as far from the edge as possible.
“If you’re totally healthy, toward the back end you’re into Uribe and Ellis and things like that. Obviously, it changes it a little bit,” Mattingly said. “But that’s who we are right now, and we’re going to get healthy.”
If they do and they still don’t get on a roll, it’s time to start examining Schumaker’s comment a little more closely.