Is Mattingly Playing It Too Safe?

Anyone who has followed the Dodgers for any length of time knows of their incredible propensity for leaving a lot of guys on base (LOB). And even worse is their inability to hit with runners in scoring position (RISP). Now granted, LOBs and RISPs are a part of the game and something that every team must deal with, but it seems that the Dodgers are always at the top of these two dubious categories year in and year out, and 2012 is certainly no exception. In fact, during an August 26 game at Dodger Stadium against the Miami Marlins, the Dodgers left a season-high 16 men on base and went a dismal 2 for 17 with RISP. Now I don’t care who you have in your line-up, leaving 16 runners stranded on base and hitting .117 with runners in scoring position is not going to win you a division title.

After yet another loss on Thursday night, this time to the .500 Arizona Diamondbacks, Dodgers broadcasters Rick Monday and Charlie Steiner, and DodgerTalk host and former MLB manager Kevin Kennedy pointed out that with (then) 30 games remaining in the season, the Dodgers need to make some adjustments to their game to have any chance of catching and passing the Giants for the NL West title. One area in which this was necessary (in the opinion of these three baseball men) is the need for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to become more aggressive with his seemingly few and far between base runners. By this they meant that he needs to put on more hit and run (and run and hit) plays to improve his chances of getting these guys in scoring position and, of course, scoring more runs. I have to admit that Monday, Steiner or Kennedy have yet to say anything that I have ever agreed with more than this.

Putting a hit and run play on with guys like Mark Ellis and Luis Cruz is a no-brainer, but with only 29 games remaining, perhaps it is time for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to be a little more aggressive with others when he has runners on base. (Photo credit – Mark J. Terrill)

So inspired by this burning question as to why Mattingly doesn’t utilize more hit and run plays, especially during the stretch run, I asked him this exact question during Friday’s pre-game media conference in the Dodgers dugout.

“There’s kind of certain spots I like to hit and run because the club (is in) kind of a changing of the guard. I really don’t want to take the bat out of guys like Matt (Kemp) up there. I haven’t hit and run with him all year long, I haven’t hit and run from Dre, Adrian (Gonzalez)… it’s like in a sense you take the bat out of their hand. Certain guys up on top I can do it a little bit like with Shane and Mark, and we can do it a little bit at the bottom with Cruz there and some guys.

“Leaving guys on is kind of the by-product of having a lot of guys out there, so I want to keep taking my chances with a lot of guys on; because usually if I get a lot of guys on… the team that leaves the most guys on base usually score the most runs over the course of the season. So you’ll see the teams that really score, go check out the runners left on base, they’ve got a lot of guys out there that means they’re giving themselves a lot of chances, and so that’s what you do when you’ve got a line-up like this.” - Don Mattingly

To say that I was a bit surprised by Mattingly’s answer would be an understatement – especially with the Dodgers having lost 7 of their last 10 games, and eight consecutive losses to the Diamondbacks. Simply put, leaving runners on base without so much as trying to advance them makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Sending a runner on a hit and run play (or having the runner go on his own on a run and hit play) not only forces the shortstop or second baseman out of fielding position, it also significantly increased your chances of getting that runner into scoring position or even scoring if the ball is put in play down the line or in the gap. One need look no further than Mike Scioscia’s Angels to see what this type of aggressive base running can do (2012 not withstanding). The hit and run play is one of the most difficult plays to defend against and generally leads to more runs scored over the course of a season; and more runs means more wins – period.

After the pre-game media conference, I ran into Kevin Kennedy in the Vin Scully Press Box and shared with him what Mattingly had said about the hit and run issue. “That’s inexperience talking right there,” said Kennedy. “You handle hit and runs plays differently at different times of the season, especially during the final 30 games when you’re in a pennant race,” he added.

Needless to say, my already high opinion of Kevin Kennedy and his tremendous baseball knowledge is now even higher. I only hope that my high opinion of Don Mattingly also increases in the final month of the season.

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Dodger closer Kenley Jansen will find out on Tuesday if he can be taken off blood thinner medication for his most recent bout with cardiac dysrhythmia. If so, Jansen could be available to pitch as early as next Friday; if not, he will most likely miss the remainder of the season.

The blood thinner medication is designed to prevent blood clots which could lead to a stroke. If Jansen were struck with a baseball while on the medication, he could bleed to death. Because of this, Jansen must remain in the clubhouse during the games. Jansen threw a successful bullpen session on Friday and will do so again on Sunday, however there can be no other baseball activities going on around him while he is working out to avoid any potential injuries.

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Miscellany

Mattingly opted to have right-hander Matt Guerrier make his first appearance since April 18 against left-handed power hitter Jason Kubel while situational left-hander Randy Choate sat in the Dodgers bullpen. Kubel promptly deposited Guerrier’s third pitch into the right field seats with the game-winning home run. (Photo credit – Stephen Dunn)

  • Friday night’s loss to the D-backs in the 11th inning was from a solo home run by left-handed hitting Jason Kubel off of right-handed pitching Matt Guerrier. Guerrier was making his first appearance since April 18th. The Dodgers had situational left-hander extraordinaire Randy Choate available in the bullpen. During the post game interview, I asked Dodgers manager Don Mattingly why he didn’t bring in Choate to pitch to Kubel. “Choate is really a one-hitter guy, not really a one-inning guy,” said Mattingly. “Matt’s on our roster. Matt actually threw the ball pretty well tonight.” Ok, if Choate is only a one-hitter guy, what not use him for Kubel, a guy with some pop? And yes, Guerrier did throw well – except for that one pitch to Kubel that landed in the right field seats… the one pitch the beat you. Other than that he was perfect.
  • Because the Giants also lost on Friday night, the Dodgers remain 4 games behind them in the win column – that’s the good news. The bad news is that another day has ticked off of the calender and the Dodgers still trail the Giants by 5 games in the loss column. Games can be made up in the win column but they can never be recovered from the loss column – and that’s a painful fact of life.
  • The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes defeated the Bakersfield Blaze (Reds) with a thrilling come-from-behind win on Friday night thanks to a clutch pinch hit home run by Chris Jacobs in the top of the 9th inning (Jake batted for Yasiel Puig, of all people – GREAT call, Busty!). With the win, the Quakes now have a one-game lead over the Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres) for the final Cal League Wild Card berth with 3 games remaining. GO QUAKES!

 

 

 

 

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