Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly have been lucky. Over the course of the past season and a half the Dodgers have had four All-Star outfielders vying for three outfield spots – Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford. It’s actually five when you add in utility outfielder/infielder Scott Van Slyke. But during that year and a half, one or more of these very highly paid outfielders have either been on the disabled list or nursing minor aches and pains back to health. And while the Dodgers general and field managers have repeatedly said that having too many outfielders is a good problem to have (for said health reasons), it now appears that maybe it is not.
When you look at the big picture, it is truly amazing that there have actually been very few games where all four Dodger superstar outfielders have been healthy at the same time; I mean, we’re probably talking fewer than 20 games. In fact, it may even be a dozen or less. But when it has happened, it has created a bit of tension in the Dodgers clubhouse whether the Dodgers brass chooses to acknowledges it or not.
At one point Matt Kemp adamantly denounced that he was a fourth outfielder, that he would not accept that role. And while this may have been perceived as tremendous passion and a good thing by some, it was perceived as being egotistical and not being a team player by many others. Interestingly enough and much to his credit, the guy who has kept an even keel throughout all of this has been right-fielder-turned-center-fielder Andre Ethier who was (and to some degree still is) the target of frequent attacks and trade rumors – many of which were media driven and more often than not completely unfounded.
As crazy as it may sound, Colletti and Mattingly dodged this awkward four-guys-for-three-spots bullet yet again when left fielder Carl Crawford severely rolled his left ankle on May 27 while running down a ball in the corner. The injury landed Crawford on the DL for almost six weeks during which time Kemp was basically given the everyday left fielder job. The bad part about all of this (well one of them, that is) is that Crawford was just beginning to heat up at the plate and was beginning to show off his speed again – something that he has been lacking since injuring his left hamstring over a year ago.
On Thursday Crawford was reactivated from the disabled list and was immediately relegated to the bench, as the four-outfielders-for-three-spots situation once again reared its ugly head.
“We’ll just see, we’ll see how it goes” said Mattingly prior to Thursday’s game against the Padres. “It depends on how we play and how things are going.”
Earlier, Mattingly had a closed-door meeting with the 32-year-old Crawford, a meeting which, according to Mattingly, went very well and took some heat off of the Dodger manager. Was Mattingly relieved that Crawford took the news well and was willing to accept a bench role?
“Ya, in a sense. I figured he would be” said Mattingly. “Carl has never been any trouble with anything. Obviously Carl is a guy that wants to play but at this point he probably sees what’s been going on. We’ve been playing well and I think at the end of the day guys want to get to the postseason and have a chance to win it all. He sees that we’re winning and playing okay. We also know that there will be chances and opportunities. He’s played long enough to know that the season is going to get long, there’s going to be guys that get banged up.”
From Crawford’s perspective he is just happy to be back with the team and understands the situation, perhaps better that anyone.
“I’m just happy to be back right now,” said Crawford. “Things have been going pretty well for the team right now and [Mattingly] pretty much said he’s going to leave it like it is right now and kind of mix me in whenever he can. There’s not too much you can say to that. The guys have been playing extremely well, got back in first place, so I’ve just got to be ready for when my number is called and try to stay sharp enough to play well when I get in the game.”
Since coming to the Dodgers as part of the blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox in July of 2012, Crawford has been a team player. And while he may have been perceived as having a bad attitude by Red Sox fans, he has shown anything but since becoming a Dodger. But is his relegation to the bench actually the result of the team playing well during his six-week absence or is it because he is the least vocal about not playing?
“It’s something that you never want to hear but at the same time you’ve got to understand what’s going on,” said the Houston, Texas native. “You know that the team’s been playing well and you’ve got to ride that out. That’s the way we won before, you go with the hot hand. The guys are playing well and you’ve just got to sit back and wait for your turn and just root for your teammates and hope we keep playing well.
“This is a situation where we’re winning and you definitely don’t want to be the guy who’s complaining and bitching about, excuse my language, about dumb stuff,” Crawford added. “I’m not that guy and I’m just going to be here cheering everybody on.”
You have to ask yourself, ‘would Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier or Yasiel Puig see it this way?’ Perhaps, but perhaps not. But when all is said and done, it’s difficult to get the image of Crawford’s performance during the 2013 postseason out of your head. You remember, the guy they call “The Perfect Storm” who went 13 for 42 (.309) with four home runs and 4 RBIs?
Welcome back, Carl; and thank you. Thank you for having a great attitude and for being a team player.