Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Youngsters get Dodgers closer to clinching
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES -- September can make for some weird moments, when players who have scarcely been heard from jump up and affect a season at a critical moment. Who knows, maybe they'll even affect a postseason game at a critical moment.
The Los Angeles Dodgers got a little dose of that Tuesday night, when Scott Van Slyke hammered a walk-off home run to give them a 5-3 11th-inning win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. It trimmed their magic number for clinching the National League West to just six games, meaning they could be celebrating a division title as early as Saturday.
Dee Gordon's speed could make him a valuable asset for the Dodgers in the postseason, but there are several younger players who could have an impact.
As nice as Van Slyke's shot was, two other young players who shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the major leagues all summer could prove useful in a few weeks.
Shortstop Dee Gordon, who has had virtually no impact on this Dodgers season, could give them a dangerous pinch runner for the late innings of close games. Reliever Chris Withrow and his 98 mph fastball might come in handy, too.
Manager Don Mattingly still refuses to talk much about postseason roster possibilities until the Dodgers clinch, but he said both Gordon and Van Slyke will get long looks for a bench spot.
"One guy hits a home run, another steals a base," Mattingly said. "We'll kind of deal with those questions and throw them around upstairs and downstairs if we can get there."
Gordon could give the Dodgers another Dave Roberts nine years after Roberts stole that key base to spark the Boston Red Sox's World Series run. Gordon pinch ran for Adrian Gonzalez in the 10th inning Tuesday night, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
He stayed stuck there when Juan Uribe struck out on a 3-and-2 pitch from Josh Collmenter, but you could see how Gordon's presence on the bases distracted the Arizona reliever. The last thing a pitcher needs in a pressure-packed playoff setting is somebody that fast in his peripheral vision.
Tuesday was another one of those bullpen games, the kind the Dodgers lost in the first few months and have won ever since. They got four scoreless innings of relief from the usual suspects. You'd have to include Withrow in that mix at this point. He pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings at the end of the game to pick up his third win. He has retired 15 straight batters.
It's hard to see much of a role for Edinson Volquez when the Dodgers get to the postseason, but you never know. He at least gave the Dodgers a better-than-serviceable second start after coming off the scrap heap of August free agency, giving up only four hits in six innings.
One of those hits happened to be a two-run home run that reached 15 rows into the right-field bleachers off the bat of shortstop Didi Gregorius in the fifth inning.
Volquez's 5.99 ERA and wild inconsistency (he was 9-0 with a 3.61 ERA in his 12 starts the San Diego Padres won and 0-10 with an 8.16 ERA in the 15 they lost) would seem to make him an unlikely choice for October. At the least, he allowed the Dodgers to give their other starting pitchers -- the lifeblood of the team -- a couple of extra days of rest, and he'll probably pitch more before the month is out.
The Dodgers tied it in the bottom of the fifth inning when Andre Ethier drove in Hanley Ramirez with a double to right field. Ramirez had given the Dodgers a serious scare fouling a ball off his left shin and collapsing in a heap near home plate before getting up, taking ball four and walking to first.
Arizona, which was in first place the previous time it came to Dodger Stadium, looked a little shabby in the early innings. Gregorius and catcher Miguel Montero both made ugly errors. Montero's throwing error on Volquez's poorly placed bunt allowed Uribe to score the game's first run in the second inning.