Commentary

Patience needed with DeWitt

The Dodgers know they have to take the good with the bad with young second baseman

Updated: April 8, 2010, 10:58 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Dodgers made a conscious decision over the winter not to bring back four-time Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson. It was based largely on the fact that Hudson no longer seemed to fit into the fabric of the Dodgers' clubhouse, but there is no denying that it also was based at least in part because Hudson would command a salary much larger than the Dodgers really wanted to pay for the position.

The Dodgers also made that decision knowing there might be occasional consequences. And on Wednesday night, in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates before 31,061 at PNC Park, there was an occasion, and there was a consequence.

[+] EnlargeBlake DeWitt
Jason Bridge/US PresswireBlake DeWitt made an error in the 10th inning Wednesday, but he also made some good plays.
Blake DeWitt, who was given the every-day second-base job despite his relative lack of experience at the position, committed a costly error on a ground ball hit by Pirates left fielder Lastings Milledge to start the bottom of the 10th. DeWitt initially bobbled the ball, then recovered and made a wide throw to first.

The error was charged on the fielding attempt, not on the throw. Either way, it eventually led to the unearned run that caused the Dodgers to fall to 0-2 for the season.

"I just didn't make the play, and it's a play I should make a hundred times out of a hundred," DeWitt said. "I didn't make it, and it cost us. It's unfortunate that it happened right there, and it's unfortunate that it happened at all."

Manager Joe Torre said it wasn't a play that could be chalked up to inexperience.

"That's just an error," Torre said. "It could have happened at third base or anywhere else. I don't think inexperience had anything to do with it."

It wasn't the only play in which DeWitt was involved.

He lunged for a ball up the middle in the third but couldn't make what would have been a spectacular play on the speedy Andrew McCutchen, who beat it out for a single. DeWitt then made a nice play on a grounder by Garrett Jones to force McCutchen at second.

And then, on a double-play grounder in the sixth, as both DeWitt and shortstop Rafael Furcal converged on the bag at the same time, DeWitt made a nice reach for a high throw from pitcher Russ Ortiz, to the first-base side of the bag with a runner sliding in. DeWitt then made a perfect relay to first to complete the double play.

Torre has said his biggest concern about DeWitt as his every-day second baseman was how DeWitt would handle the pivot. And in this case, DeWitt handled a difficult play flawlessly.

Where DeWitt is concerned, there will be growing pains. There might even be more disastrous gaffes like the one he committed in the 10th inning. When they happen, the Dodgers will have no choice but to swallow hard and live with the results. After all, they have committed to DeWitt as their second baseman, a commitment Torre reiterated after the game.

Oh, and just for the record: Hudson wound up signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Minnesota Twins just before the start of spring training. DeWitt, who has a little more than a year of big league service time, will make $410,000 this season.

Lost in the shuffle

By the time the four-hour marathon was over, Clayton Kershaw's first start of the season was all but forgotten. In the grand scheme of a 10-inning game, after all, he hadn't even made it to the halfway mark.

It hadn't been forgotten by Kershaw.

"It wasn't very good," the Dodgers left-hander said. "I just didn't feel comfortable the whole night. I battled myself the whole game."

Kershaw couldn't get through the fifth inning, and he needed 109 pitches just to get through 4 2/3 innings. The good news was that after falling behind 3-0 before he recorded an out -- he walked Aki Iwamura, gave up a single to McCutchen and then gave up a three-run homer to Garrett Jones -- Kershaw wasn't charged with another run.

He was, however, charged with six walks, two of which were to Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. The last of those walks was to former fellow Dodgers prospect Andy LaRoche, who had fallen behind 0-and-2 before working a frustrated Kershaw for four balls. Of the last three pitches to LaRoche -- Kershaw's last three pitches of the night -- two were bounced, and the other was several inches high and wide, prompting Kershaw to pound his fist into his glove in frustration as LaRoche trotted to first to load the bases.

Trends

There was a simple reason Pirates closer Octavio Dotel quite obviously pitched around Andre Ethier with a runner on second and two outs in the ninth inning with Manny Ramirez on deck. It was because Ramirez was 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in his career against Dotel.

Still, the fact a team was actually pitching around Ethier to get to Ramirez in a key, late-inning situation of a tie game was a clear indication things have changed. Is Ethier now considered a more dangerous hitter than the presumably drug-free and possibly declining Ramirez? Only time will tell if this becomes a trend.

Strategy

There were several simple reasons Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake laid down a sacrifice bunt after James Loney drew a leadoff walk from Brendan Donnelly in the 10th. First, it was by the proverbial book. Second, the Dodgers' offense the first two games of the season hasn't exactly been lighting it up, especially in key situations -- the team is 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position. And third, Blake himself had been hitless in four previous at-bats for the evening.

So the strategy clearly made sense. But was it sound? Who knows? No one, actually. No one will ever know what would have happened if Blake had been allowed to swing the bat rather than giving away an at-bat in that situation. As it turned out, Loney was eventually left standing on third when Ronnie Belliard popped up to end the inning, an inning when the Dodgers effectively had only two outs to work with instead of the usual three.

Lost and found

After hitting only seven home runs last season, Russell Martin hit his first of the year in the fifth inning off Ohlendorf. The blast went to right field of all places, landing in the front row above the out-of-town scoreboard.

"Russell had great at-bats tonight and the other day," Torre said. "He just looks like he is in a groove right now where he has a plan and he is sticking with it. I think it was important for him to get off to a good start so that he doesn't try to get too big with his swing and try to catch up. That is when he loses his patience and his poise."

Quote of the day

Dodgers setup man George Sherrill, who had been struggling with his mechanics and his results until pitching a scoreless eighth inning against the Pirates in which he gave up only a walk and struck out two of the four batters he faced:

"I think we finally figured out what it was. It's just kind of bittersweet because we're not off to the start we want. But not to sound arrogant, but I think I'm a pretty key part of this team. The back end of the bullpen is pretty important, and I need to be sharp. So to finally figure out what was wrong, it's definitely a relief."

Look ahead

The Dodgers' hopes of avoiding the colossal indignity of a season-opening sweep at the hands of the lightly regarded Pirates now rests on the sometimes slumped-over shoulders of right-hander Chad Billingsley, who will make his season debut in Thursday's matinee. With left-hander Paul Maholm going for the Pirates, the Dodgers will take the field without Ramirez and either Blake or Loney, as Torre said he would rest at least two of his regulars because of the quick turnaround.

The result notwithstanding, Billingsley's most important assignment will be to pitch deep into the game. The Dodgers' bullpen already has pitched eight innings in the team's first two games. But with rain and much cooler weather in the forecast, Torre says he isn't going to keep bringing Billingsley back if there are repeated delays.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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