Four-man infield shift pays off; Dodgers feel good Hanley Ramirez can play Saturday

SAN DIEGO -- They looked like a kickoff-coverage team, lined up and holding themselves on their tip-toes, trying not to go offside but ready to charge down the field and be the hero.

The Los Angeles Dodgers might have employed the first four-man, drawn-in right side of an infield in baseball history Friday night.

It started with Andre Ethier jogging in from center field to play first base, and it got more crowded over there when Seth Smith came up. Smith is an extreme pull hitter and one of a handful of batters in the league for whom the Dodgers routinely overshift anyway, sending the shortstop or third baseman to the other side of the second-base bag.

So, there they were in the bottom of the 12th inning, spaced about five steps apart -- Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Dee Gordon and Miguel Rojas, all between first and second base.

And, guess what? It worked ... or, at least, it didn’t backfire. Smith hit a routine grounder to Gordon, who threw home to get Alexi Amarista. Catcher A.J. Ellis’ throw to first wasn’t quite in time to get Smith for the double play, however, and the next batter, Yasmani Grandal, singled home the winning run in the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.

It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after. They have used Ethier on the infield before this season in such dire situations, and when Smith came up it simply became a more exaggerated alignment.

“It’s at that point of the game, you’ve got to do it,” Mattingly said.

It seems there’s always a point like that in the game when the Dodgers come down to San Diego, where they have played four one-run games and a couple of two-run games in seven contests at Petco Park. They magically morph into the Padres as they pass through Orange County en route, it seems, becoming an all-pitching, no-hitting club.

“It’s tough,” said Dodgers starting pitcher Dan Haren. “The guys out of the bullpen did great, and we couldn’t scratch one out there. They have a good bullpen, too, one of the best in the bigs.”

The Padres didn’t score between the fourth and 12th innings, and the Dodgers still couldn’t capitalize, losing a game to the suddenly not-foundering San Francisco Giants to drop a game in the standings. They now lead San Francisco by 3½ games.

Before Friday, the Dodgers had actually seen some nice signs of life from their offense, which had been productive without contributions from two of its premier talents, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez. Puig had struggled so badly -- going 0-for-18 -- that Mattingly benched him for the second time in a week, while Ramirez had gone 1-for-12 since coming off the disabled list.

In a microcosm of his season thus far, just as Ramirez started to look right at the plate something went wrong with his body. He hit a towering home run on a Dale Thayer breaking ball to tie the game at 2-2 in the eighth inning shortly before he had to leave the game when his right leg started stiffening up on him.

Ramirez had slammed it into the turf when he slipped on the first-base bag while singling in the sixth. As Ramirez was hobbling back to the bag, Grandal tagged him on the leg as he hopped in the air, wiping out the base hit.

The Dodgers are hopeful Ramirez will be healthy enough to play Saturday, and Mattingly said the trainers feel good about those chances. But the way Ramirez’s health has been the past few seasons, L.A. has to take a wait-and-see approach.