Torre's confidence in DeWitt pays off
Assured his spot is secure, the young second baseman breaks into hitting streak
LOS ANGELES -- Three hours before Monday night's game, at a time when he had no idea Blake DeWitt would drive in a career-high five runs, hit his first homer of the season and play a big part in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 12-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals before 44,876 at Dodger Stadium, Dodgers manager Joe Torre talked for several minutes about the unusual existence the third-year major leaguer but first-year everyday second baseman has been forced to live this season.
"I finally had to call him in at one point and tell him, 'No, you're not going [to the minor leagues],'" Torre said. "And then I said, 'We're going to make another move this weekend, and it's not going to be you then, either.'"
It was perfectly understandable if DeWitt has felt all season that he was no more than a step or two ahead of a demotion to Triple-A, and not just because he was given the bad news five different times last year. Heading into spring training, everybody in the front office and on the coaching staff wanted DeWitt to win the everyday job at a position that was less than natural to him, but he knew he was going down if he didn't win the job because newly signed veterans Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard are much better suited to playing part-time than DeWitt is at this stage of his career.
The concern only grew when DeWitt's batting average plummeted almost 40 points, from .296 to .257, from May 7 through last Wednesday -- the day before he started what is now a four-game hitting streak that is modest in length but not in production. Over those games, DeWitt is 7-for-15 with a double and six RBIs, three of which came on the drive he clanked high off the right-field foul pole against Cardinals rookie P.J. Walters to cap a four-run rally in the fifth inning and give the Dodgers a 10-1 lead.
"I think I'm just relaxing a little bit," DeWitt said. "I was just trying to force things the last couple of weeks, and that always makes it hard as a hitter. I'm just trying to be more relaxed and trying to have fun. But that is always a tough transition. As a hitter, if you have been struggling a little bit, you start pressing a little bit more.
"Sometimes, it takes a while to relax and let things happen on their own. You just get your work in, and you have to realize that you're ready when you get out there."
DeWitt, who topped off his performance with a spectacular, back-to-the-infield catch of Jason LaRue's sinking line drive over his head for the second out in the ninth, claims he was never concerned about the specter of being sent down.
"I don't worry about that," he said. "I just have to concentrate on being ready to play, whether I'm here or not. It's a long season. My focus has to be on contributing and keeping this thing going."
DeWitt wasn't referring to keeping his thing going, but to keeping the Dodgers' thing going. By winning for the 26th time in their past 36 games, they pushed their record (34-24) to 10 games above .500 for the first time this season and remained a half-game behind division-leading San Diego in the National League West. They also improved to 3-2 early on in this stretch of 25 consecutive games against teams with winning records.
DeWitt also contributed to another four-run rally in the third with an RBI single off Cardinals starter Blake Hawksworth and later drove in the Dodgers' penultimate run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh just before Garret Anderson doubled to drive in one more.
"[DeWitt] has become a much better second baseman, and the last three, four, five days, I think he has become much more comfortable with the bat," Torre said. "Confidence-wise, right now, he is probably as good as he has been all year."
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At first glance, it would seem inconceivable that when Vicente Padilla returns from the disabled list in a couple of weeks, the Dodgers would move rookie John Ely out of the rotation and leave rookie Carlos Monasterios in it. But if the events of the past 48 hours repeat themselves, the decision might not be so clear-cut.
Ely, who had been outstanding in his previous six starts, not only was rocked for four runs in five innings by the Atlanta Braves on Sunday but also was far less efficient with his pitches than he had been, throwing 93 of them in just five innings.
Meanwhile, Monasterios, a guy who originally was inserted into the rotation only because the Dodgers didn't have anybody else, was outstanding against the Cardinals on Monday night, holding them to three runs on four hits over six innings. He is now 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts and 3-0 with a 2.27 overall. More importantly, he erased the one lingering doubt Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt still had about him, needing just 86 pitches to get through those six innings.
Ely is 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA.
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Padilla will make his second rehabilitation start for high Single-A Inland Empire on Tuesday night against Lake Elsinore. He is expected to then transfer his rehab to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he presumably will start on June 13 at Oklahoma City and probably June 18 at Iowa before being activated.
One day after delivering a walk-off single in the 11th inning, giving the Dodgers a victory over the Atlanta Braves, backup catcher A.J. Ellis laid down a perfect suicide-squeeze bunt in the fourth against the Cardinals, dropping the ball on a patch of grass where shortstop Brendan Ryan couldn't get to it until it was too late to do anything about it. Ellis wound up with a base hit, Belliard wound up scoring from third to give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead, and DeWitt wound up on second. After a sacrifice bunt by Monasterios, Rafael Furcal hit a ground-rule double, making it 6-1.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (5-4, 3.63) will make just his second career start against the Cardinals. He turned in a solid performance last July 30 at Busch Stadium, allowing two runs on four hits over six innings while striking out five without a walk, but he got a no-decision in a game the Dodgers eventually won. He will be opposed by right-hander and former NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter (7-1, 2.76), whom the Dodgers lit up for four runs on nine hits over five innings in the opener of last year's Division Series, setting the stage for what became a three-game sweep by the Dodgers.