Monday, March 26, 2012
Fleeting glory for Jerry Sands
By Tony Jackson
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jerry Sands had failed to get a hit in nine consecutive at-bats, striking out in three of them, before he finally yanked a sharp single through the left side of the infield to bring a pinch runner from minor league camp named Elian Herrera all the way home from second in the bottom of the ninth inning of Monday's Cactus League game, giving the Los Angeles Dodgers a 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox before 5,816 at Camelback Ranch.
It was a nice moment for Sands, who has plodded his way this spring to a .158 average and a strikeout every 3.6 plate appearances while driving in just two runs, including this walkoff against former Dodgers left-hander Eric Stults. But the harsh reality is that it probably wasn't enough to save Sands' spot on the Opening Day roster, a spot that seemed all but a cinch at the start of camp.
"It's been a rough camp for Jerry,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "And obviously, Jerry knows it.''
There also were two other factors working against Sands:
-- First, infielder Justin Sellers, who figured to be his only challenger to the final spot on the roster, is hitting .357 with a .455 on-base percentage and is better suited to be a backup shortstop than either of the team's other utility infielders, Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston.
-- Second, Andre Ethier -- who drove an opposite-field, RBI double off White Sox left-hander John Danks in the fifth inning and now is hitting .412 for the spring -- finally is showing an ability to hit lefties with authority, possibly negating the need to have a right-handed power hitter like Sands to play in place of Ethier against left-handed pitchers.
So the likely destination for the highly promising Sands, at least to begin the season, is Triple-A Albuquerque, where he will play and get four at-bats every night.
"I have been feeling pretty brutal,'' Sands said. "I'm just trying to work on some things. I have made some adjustments here and there, and I'm trying to get comfortable with some of the changes that I have made.''
The most recent change, Sands said, is to try to get back to where he was at the start of camp, when he hadn't made any changes at all. The way he described it sounded like a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Sands, you may recall, made a mechanical adjustment while at Albuquerque between his two big league callups last season, resulting in him batting .342 the second time around as opposed to .200 the first time.
But the Dodgers employ two hitting coaches -- not including Mattingly, himself a hitting guru -- and early in spring training, a lot of the minor league hitting coaches are around as well until minor league camp opens. For Sands, that meant he was getting a lot of advice from a lot of different voices and a lot of different philosophies.
"You like to get help, and a lot of different people were trying to help,'' Sands said. "But everybody is different as a hitter. I appreciate the help, and I love to listen, because I know I don't know all of it. But I was up there thinking so many things at the plate, thinking about my swing and all that, and it's tough enough already when you have that pitcher throwing 95 (mph).
"Right now, I'm just trying to see some pitches and get good swings on them. I'm taking it at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.'' ...
Left-hander Ted Lilly's stiff neck was feeling better on Monday, but he still won't make his scheduled start Tuesday against the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers will go with a parade of relievers who need work to fill that void, but no decision will be made immediately as to whether Lilly will begin the season on the disabled list because of his preparation schedule for the season being thrown off track because of this.
Lilly conceivably could be pushed to the back of the rotation, meaning he would start Game 6 because Clayton Kershaw already is scheduled for Games 1 and 5. Even under that scenario, he still could be placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Monday as long as he doesn't pitch in another Cactus League game. That would allow the Dodgers to carry an additional reliever until Game 6, before which, presumably, Lilly would be activated.
That probably would mean Lilly would have to pitch an extended outing in a minor league game at some point just to get his pitch count in the range it would need to be in order for him to pitch in a regular-season, major league game. ...
In the biggest indication yet that they are serious about reviving their once-proud but long-dormant Latin American program, the Dodgers have signed Bryan Munoz, a 16-year-old right-hander out of the Dominican Republic, a source confirmed on condition of anonymity. The deal is reportedly for a $300,000 bonus. ...
Infielder Adam Kennedy isn't expected to miss much time, if any, with the mild groin tightness he experienced during Sunday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Kennedy slipped off second base while completing a force play in the bottom of the first inning and left after the top of the fourth. ... Chad Billingsley was rocked for 11 hits over 5 2/3 innings against the White Sox, but managed to strand eight baserunners and give up only three runs for the Dodgers (12-8-4), who then got a combined 3 1/3 innings of two-hit relief from Jamey Wright, Javy Guerra, Scott Elbert and Ronald Belisario.