Dodgers' offense in midseason form
The pitching may be lacking, but at least the hitters are doing their part so far
LOS ANGELES -- While it's true it shouldn't have taken almost four hours, and it's true it shouldn't have taken five pitchers or 182 pitches, it's also true there was reason for encouragement in the Dodgers' 9-5, home-opening win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday.
The biggest was the sudden realization -- or perhaps you could even call it a revelation -- that this is still a pretty good offensive team.
The Dodgers scored seven of their nine runs on homers by Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The four home runs were one more than the Dodgers hit on their season-opening, six-game trip to Pittsburgh and Florida. It also marked only the second time since Ramirez was acquired from Boston on July 31, 2008, that the three starting outfielders, Ramirez, Ethier and Kemp, all homered in the same game.
The previous time was Aug. 17, 2008, against Milwaukee.
The Dodgers still weren't exactly money with men in scoring position, going two for eight in such situations. But in a perfect illustration of why that statistic doesn't always tell an accurate story -- a point eloquently made by ESPNLosAngeles.com Dodgers blogger Jon Weisman in a post earlier this week -- there were five additional plate appearances with runners in scoring position that didn't go in the books as official at-bats.
Those included a sacrifice fly by Russell Martin that drove in the Dodgers' first run, a hit batter and three walks, the last of which was to Blake DeWitt in the fifth inning and forced in a run that gave the Dodgers a 6-1 lead.
Oh, and the two hits in those situations? They were both home runs, a two-run shot by Blake off Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy in the fourth inning and a three-run blast by Ethier off reliever Esmerling Vasquez in the sixth.
DeWitt, by the way, came to the plate three times and drew three walks before being lifted in the seventh inning for defensive purposes. Two of those walks came with two runners in scoring position and either set up a run or drove in a run. DeWitt is hitting .267, but he has a .522 on-base percentage on the strength of having drawn eight walks in 23 plate appearances.
In all, the Dodgers pounded 10 hits, seven of them for extra bases. They left seven men on base, four of them in scoring position. But even in the one inning in which they left the bases loaded, they still scored two runs.
The Dodgers finished the afternoon hitting a cool .301 for the season, an impressive number for an entire team even by the skewed standards of early April, and they have a .377 on-base percentage. They have scored 45 runs through seven games, an average of almost 6 1/2 per game. Yes, the team ERA is a hideous 5.19, and that clearly has to improve, as does the Dodgers' overall record of 3-4. But the lineup already is in midseason form.
Starter Clayton Kershaw was in serious trouble in the fifth inning, having walked two and hit a batter to load the bases with one out at a time when the Dodgers led 4-1. But although the Dodgers' infield was playing at normal depth, third baseman Blake fielded a bouncer from Justin Upton and, without the slightest hesitation, threw home to force Chris Snyder.
Adam LaRoche then flied to center to end the inning without a run scoring.
"When Upton hit the ball, it was kind of a chopper," Blake said. "I kind of caught it back on my heels, and I wasn't real comfortable that we could turn two. So I opted to go home in the hopes that we could save a run right there, and we did."
Reliever Jeff Weaver has pitched in six of the Dodgers' first seven games, and although he has totaled only 3 2/3 innings, manager Joe Torre said it's time to take it easy on the veteran right-hander.
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"We'll probably give him a day or so off," Torre said. "We trust him in situations where he can get us out of a jam, and that is pretty much where we have used him. But I do think he has been a little overextended."
Weaver relieved Kershaw with two on and one out in the sixth -- the second inning in a row in which Kershaw walked the first two batters -- and immediately gave up a run-scoring single to Snyder. But Weaver came back to get Tony Abreu on a fly ball to right and Conor Jackson on a pop fly to second, ending the threat.
Lost in the shuffle
First baseman James Loney, who had struggled to a .207 average on the trip after going hitless in his first nine at-bats, was one of only two Dodgers starting position players who didn't drive in a run Tuesday. But he went two for four with a pair of doubles and wound up scoring key runs after each of them. Loney actually hit 58 points higher (.309) on the road last year than at Dodger Stadium (.251).
By the numbers
Ramirez is now hitting .444 (41 for 99) with 11 home runs and 24 RBIs in 30 career games against the Diamondbacks.
Fan of the day
Chris Ramirez, the 17-year-old brain-cancer patient and diehard Manny Ramirez fan from the San Francisco Bay area who visited the Dodgers in spring training March 5, was invited back for Tuesday's home opener, along with his mother and sister. Chris' mom, Sara Beltran, said the family recently received good news.
"He had an MRI on April 1 that showed the tumor had shrunk," she said. "It had gone from 2.8 (centimeters) to 1.8. It happened during a Holy week (Easter), so I think it was God giving us a sign. I'm really happy for my son."
Ramirez, who plays varsity baseball at Capuchino High School in San Bruno, was diagnosed in January with glioblastoma, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. His spring-training visit was sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Scene and heard
About three hours before game time, as a group of reporters was gathered around Torre in the Dodgers' dugout, a stadium worker was spotted doing some sort of maintenance work on the aisle seat in the third row of owner Frank McCourt's private box, which is right next to the dugout. Fill in your own punch line here if you must. But no, it wasn't the seat that used to belong to McCourt's estranged wife, former Dodgers president Jamie McCourt. And no, the seat wasn't being removed.
Quote of the day
Kershaw, who is 1-0 despite having walked 11 batters in 10 innings this season and either walked or hit five of the final nine batters he faced before being lifted with one out in the sixth inning Monday: "I would rather we win because of me than in spite of me."
Chad Billingsley will make his second start of the season for the Dodgers after pitching the team to its first victory with an impressive effort Thursday at Pittsburgh. However, he still had an inflated pitch count -- he threw 107 in 5 1/3 innings -- an issue that has plagued him throughout his big league career and something he will have to learn to control if he is ever to reach his full potential. Arizona's Rodrigo Lopez also faced the Pirates in his season debut Friday, holding them to a run and six hits over six innings. The nine-year veteran will be making only his seventh major league start since undergoing Tommy John surgery on Aug. 22, 2007.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.