Friday, September 14, 2012
Cruz provides a spark, can the Dodgers keep it going?
By Ramona Shelburne
Luis Cruz saw an opportunity and took a chance Friday, and it resulted in a win for the Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- In the past two weeks, as the Los Angeles Dodgers' offense has swooned and their chances of playing in the postseason have gone in very much the same direction, hitting coach Dave Hansen has tried a little of everything.
He has had meetings with the hitters as a group and individually. He has watched countless hours of tape, looking for adjustments they can make. He has tried to make them laugh, tried to make them mad, but mostly he has just tried to get them to relax so that if something were to spark them, there'd be enough air in the room for a flame to keep burning.
"You can talk all you want, and we've tried all of that," Hansen said of a Dodgers' offense that came into Friday's game having scored eight runs in its past six games. "But it really comes down to something that sparks each other as a team.
"We're cheerleading them in the dugout, we're trying to keep the morale up, but it really comes down to something happening in the course of the game that just ignites each guy."
Enter Luis Cruz, the 28-year-old infielder making $250,000 this year who has played parts of 12 seasons in the minors or in Mexico before being called up to the Dodgers in July.
Since then he has done nothing but hit and become a fan favorite at Dodger Stadium. Friday night he got his biggest hit as a Dodger, blasting a three-run homer off Cardinals starter Edward Mujica to rally the team to an 8-5 win that kept them a game back for the second National League wild-card berth.
"I was supposed to take a pitch, but I just saw it hanging and reacted," Cruz said. "I think everybody was happy. We've been having tough games. We've been having trouble to score runs and I think today was the day we started. Let's forget about the games we lost and from now on let's play good baseball."
After weeks of offensive malaise, Cruz's blast felt like something of a turning point.
But the Dodgers have been through too much this year to think one good night can completely correct their course.
"Hopefully, this will jump-start us," said outfielder Shane Victorino, who went 1-for-3 and scored two runs Friday. "But tonight is tonight and tommorrow is another day."
For Hansen, tommorrow is always another day. Adjustments must always be made. Hitters are always searching for something. And despite Cruz's home run, there's still the issue of cajoling consistent production out of the heart of the Dodgers' lineup.
Adrian Gonzalez hit two more doubles Friday, so that's a good start. Hanley Ramirez went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, so that's a little something too. But Matt Kemp went 0-for-4 and left three men on base.
"For him, it's all timing," Hansen said. "When it's on-time, it's devastating to all fields."
Right now, Kemp is searching for it. Searching hard for it. But still searching.
"He's going to get the game instead of letting the game get to him," Hansen said. "It's not only him. There's other guys who are forcing some stuff, too."
Friday night, Cruz did just that. He went into his at bat against Mujica with the idea of taking a pitch. But when an opportunity presented itself in the form of a hanging breaking ball, he took it.
The fans in Dodger Stadium went wild and called him out for a curtain call.
"I didn't know what to do," Cruz said with a smile. "I was so excited and everybody was hugging me in the dugout. I've seen that many times on TV. It feels good to do one time."