When utility outfielder/first baseman Scott Van Slyke made the Dodgers 2013 playoff roster, Dodger fans were ecstatic. Why wouldn’t they be? On several occasions during the 2013 season the 27-year-old Chesterfield, Missouri native came up with huge clutch hits (usually pinch hits) that often led to Dodgers victories. Who can forget his dramatic walk-off home run on September 10 as the Dodgers were on the verge of clenching the 2013 NL West title?
But for reason that only he knows, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly did not use Van Slyke in either the Division Series or the Championship Series – not once, not even one single at bat. Mattingly instead went with 37-year-old Michael Young, who the Dodgers had picked up just minutes before the August 31 non-waiver trade deadline. In his 10 postseason at bats, Young had exactly one meaningless base hit. And for Dodgers fans with keen memories, it was Young who hit that weak fly ball to shallow right field on which Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis was thrown out at the plate on the famous “non-tag” play. Had Young’s fly ball traveled even 10 feet farther, chances are that Ellis would have scored the winning run in the 10th inning of Game-1 of the NLCS.
In that painful game Young, not Van Slyke, had been brought in to replace Adrian Gonzalez at first base after Mattingly decided to pull Gonzalez for pinch runner Dee Gordon, who never even attempted to steal second base and was doubled up in an inning-ending double play off the bat of Yasiel Puig. If Dodger fans were to take a vote, pulling AGon in the 8th inning of a tied NLCS game would probably rank number one as Mattingly’s biggest bonehead play in his three-plus seasons as the Dodgers manager. But alas, life is full of bonehead decisions and what-could-have-beens.
When the 2014 season kicked off in Sydney, Australia, it didn’t take long for Van Slyke to pick up right where he had left off when he hit a double off the wall at historic Sydney Cricket Ground in game-2 of the 2014 MLB season-opener. The ball was badly misplayed by Diamondbacks left fielder Mark Trumbo and everyone, including Van Slyke and the SportsNetLA cameraman, thought that the ball had gone out. In fact, Van Slyke received a high-five from Dodgers first base coach Davey Lopes as he rounded the bag. Van Slyke’s home run trot came to an abrupt end when he arrived at second base and learned that the ball had hit off the wall a good eight feet from where Trumbo had tried to catch it.
Not to be denied, “Slykie” (as Mattingly calls him) got to finish his home run trot in his next at bat when he sliced a rare opposite-field home run around the right field foul pole for the Dodgers first home run of the new season. He has since hit two additional home runs along with four doubles and a triple in only 44 at bats. (Do you see a pattern here?).
The good news for Van Slyke fans (and there are many) is that Mattingly apparently learned his lesson from leaving the power-hitting right-hander on the bench during the 2013 postseason and now uses him more often - and with good cause.
“He’s here really to punish left-handers,” said Mattingly prior to Friday night’s game against the Giants. “Right now, that’s what he’s doing. That’s his job really, to hit left-handed pitching.”
During Friday night’s game Van Slyke pulled yet another rabbit out of his hat. Not necessarily known for his speed, Van Slyke stole second base off of Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, having reached base on a walk. (I neglected to mention that Van Slyke has drawn nine walks thus far this season – fifth-most on the team in only 53 plate appearances).
“It was a straight steal, not a hit and run,” said the extremely good-natured and well liked Van Slyke. “I kept watching [Bumgarner] and he was giving it to me.”
Interestingly, it was Van Slyke’s second stolen base of the season. He also stole second off of Twins right-hander Michael Tonkin on May 1. That being said, it is probably safe to say that Van Slyke will never catch speedster Dee Gordon for the team lead in stolen bases anytime soon… or ever.
While there may be an on-going debate as to which of the Dodgers four superstar outfielders should play everyday, there never seems to be any debate or complaints by Dodger fans whenever Van Slyke’s name appears in the line-up or when he is announced as a pinch-hitter.
Scott Van Slyke truly is a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of all of them.