A day off here and there can do wonders for a tired mind. Just ask Casey Blake.
The Dodgers' third baseman sat out Friday night's game at Washington -- at least until the ninth inning, when he pinch-hit and was hit by a pitch in a meaningless plate appearance in a lopsided game -- at a point when he had one hit in his previous 12 at-bats with five strikeouts. Blake returned to the lineup Saturday and played the hero in the Dodgers' 4-3, 13-inning win over the Washington Nationals before 23,859 at Nationals Ballpark.
Not only at the plate, where Blake hit two home runs, but in the field, where he cut down a pair of runners at the plate on ground balls.
In his first at-bat, against Nationals right-hander Craig Stammen, Blake drove a two-run shot over the wall in center field, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. He flied out against Stammen leading off the fifth, but after the Nationals tied it against Clayton Kershaw with a run in the sixth, Blake came up with two outs and none on in the seventh and homered off Stammen again.
Blake's biggest contribution, though, might have been those two defensive plays.
The first came in the bottom of that same seventh inning. With another error by Rafael Furcal having put the defense-challenged Dodgers in another tight spot -- this time with runners at the corners and one out -- Josh Willingham hit a sharp grounder to Blake, who might have had a chance at an inning-ending double play. Blake opted not to take that chance and threw home to nail Ian Desmond, cutting off the run and preserving the Dodgers' lead.
Then, after the Dodgers had re-taken the lead on Russell Martin's RBI single in the top of the 13th, the Nationals threatened again in their half. A double by Nyjer Morgan put runners on second and third with one out, and Desmond followed with another grounder to Blake, who fired home to cut down Ivan Rodriguez sliding in.
The hot-hitting Rodriguez, who is limited to pinch-hitting because of a back problem, might have beaten the throw if not for his physical limitations. He argued the call with plate umpire Brian O'Nora, as did Nats manager Jim Riggleman, but to no avail. Televised replays appeared to show that O'Nora had gotten the call right even though Martin had been late with the tag because Rodriguez kept his right foot a couple of inches in the air as he slid across the plate and never actually made contact with the plate until after Martin had tagged him on the inner right thigh.
Blake had gotten off to an outstanding start offensively before his recent slump. The home runs were his second and third of the season, and the three RBIs gave him 14 for the year. He finished the afternoon with three hits, including an infield single in the ninth, to push his average to .316.
This was Blake's ninth career two-homer game, but his first with the Dodgers. His most recent one had come with Cleveland against Texas on June 2, 2008, about eight weeks before he was traded to Los Angeles.
By the numbers
2 2/3 -- scoreless innings by Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pick from Philadelphia who despite having made only two career appearances above Single-A before the Dodgers acquired him in December is having a solid rookie season thus far. In a single afternoon, he sliced his ERA by almost a full run, from 3.00 to 2.07, and picked up his first major league win. He also actually made contact in his first big league plate appearance, grounding to first to end the top of the 13th inning against Miguel Batista after the Dodgers had taken the lead.
Lost in the shuffle
Left-hander George Sherrill, who has been fighting his mechanics all season, retired all four batters he faced in the 10th and 11th innings, the best sign yet that his problems are behind him.
With the Dodgers' bullpen having struggled all season and still sporting a 5.46 ERA, manager Joe Torre told the reporters covering the game that until that changed, each pitcher's role wouldn't necessarily be sharply defined. But if Sherrill can continue to pitch the way he did Saturday, he can slip back into his customary eighth-inning role, which in turn could cause a trickle-down effect of more defined roles throughout the pen.
By the way, Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton conspired to blow an eighth-inning lead in this one, as well. The tying run was charged to Troncoso, but it was Broxton who was charged with the blown save. The run was unearned by scorer's decision because of a throwing error on Martin. But it could have gone either way because Adam Kennedy, who stole second and went to third on Martin's error, probably would have scored from second on Nyjer Morgan's two-out single to left field.
Manny Ramirez returned to Los Angeles for treatment on his strained right calf, one day after being put on the 15-day disabled list.
"[General manager] Ned [Colletti] and I didn't see any reason for him to stay on the trip,'' Torre said.
Especially not on a trip that concludes with a three-game series New York, where the usual media circus figured to focus primarily on Ramirez if he were there. If Ramirez is unable to play, there is no reason to subject him to that circus, which apparently is another reason the decision was made to send him back home.
Outfielder Kyle Russell, the Dodgers' third-round pick in 2008 out of the University of Texas and last year's Midwest League Co-Most Valuable Player at low Single-A Great Lakes, is off to a hot start in his first season at high Single-A. Russell entered play Saturday hitting .356 (21 for 59) for Inland Empire and led the California League with four home runs and 14 RBIs. Before going hitless in three at-bats Friday night at Visalia, he had begun the season with a 14-game hitting streak.
Torre won't say that Chad Billingsley's (1-0, 7.07) start against the Nationals on Sunday is critical to the right-hander's keeping his spot in the rotation, but it is getting increasingly difficult to believe that the Dodgers will stick with Billingsley much longer if he doesn't find some level of consistency. Left-hander Scott Olsen (0-1, 11,74) goes for the Nationals. He is 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA in three career starts against the Dodgers.
Tony Jackson, who reported from Glendale, Ariz., covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.