LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez, bothered by shoulder and calf injuries, has played three innings in the past week. Going into this three-game series with the Cleveland Indians, the Dodgers have gone 5-1 mostly without him.
That’s not to suggest that Ramirez isn’t a valuable player or that the Dodgers won’t immediately re-insert him in their lineup when he’s feeling better, but it demonstrates how far they’ve come from a year ago. Last year, the Dodgers went when Ramirez’s bat produced. This year, they might pitch so well, they can live without it for long stretches, particularly since Miguel Rojas is such a defensive upgrade at shortstop.
“The places where we’ve had to replace guys or temporarily have other guys have been defensive positions and it’s really made us a little better defensively,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters over the weekend. “So, you have to win 4-3 and 3-2 and, every once in a while, you throw up some runs.”
Overall, the Dodgers have won 12 of their last 16 games and made up 9 1/2 on the struggling San Francisco Giants in 21 days. It doesn’t feel like they need to tamper with their formula at this very moment, which might give them the leeway they need to give Ramirez the time he needs to heal on the 15-day disabled list.
Dodgers pitching, led by Clayton Kershaw, has been absolutely smothering. The staff had a 2.63 ERA in June and Dodgers starters have walked two or fewer batters in 33 straight games, the second-longest such streak in a century.
The one starter who makes for a nervous night for Mattingly lately is Dan Haren, who pitches tonight’s opener. Control isn’t an issue with Haren, but velocity and long balls have been major concerns. Haren has a 5.20 ERA and has given up eight home runs in his last five starts, rarely exceeding 87 mph with his fastball. As a rule, he has consistently kept the Dodgers in games, but he lasted only 4 1/3 innings in his last start, in Kansas City.
“I’ll get back to pitching the way I was the first month,” Haren said after that game. “I’m confident I can do that.”
The Dodgers are catching the Indians at the right time, having lost 11 of their last 17 games, but tonight they’re also running into one of their best starting pitchers, Corey Kluber (7-5, 3.09 ERA), who is 6-0 with a 2.29 ERA in six career starts against National League teams.
Just a couple of years ago, the Dodgers struggled badly in interleague play, but they’ve added a lot of firepower to their lineup since then and they match up much better now. They have won 16 of their last 24 games against the AL.