- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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PITTSBURGH -- The opinion here, which you may have read in this space or heard expressed on the radio in recent days, didn't necessarily change while watching the Los Angeles Dodgers beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-3, before 13,497 on Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Your humble scribe still believes the biggest reason the Dodgers have struggled so mightily to score runs over the past month is the absence of Rafael Furcal from the top of their lineup, even though they sort of struggled to score runs even before Furcal broke his left thumb on a headfirst slide into third base back on April 11.
When I put the question to Jamey Carroll, the guy who has drawn most of the starts at shortstop and most of the games in the leadoff spot with Furcal out, he didn't disagree.
"My job, like I have always said, is to hold the fort down until somebody comes back," said Carroll, who figures to be holding it down for at least another week. "He is a switch hitter who can steal some bases, and that is very important to who we are. We need him back in the lineup whenever we can get him."
Furcal is hoping to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment by this weekend, something that could put him on track to return around the middle of next week. There is no denying the Dodgers are a better offensive team with him than without him. But over the past few days, this club appears to have found the next best thing at the top of the order with Carroll leading off and another utility man, the switch-hitting Aaron Miles, batting second while filling in for the injured Casey Blake.
Actually, if you want to get really technical about it, Miles is filling in for second baseman Juan Uribe, who is filling in for Blake at third. But this story isn't about that.
Through the first five games of this trip, Carroll is 11-for-21 with three walks and four runs scored. Miles is 8-for-23 with four RBIs and two runs scored. And over the past three games, since manager Don Mattingly has settled on Carroll and Miles batting first and second, respectively, rather than alternating them into the leadoff and eighth spots, they are a combined 14-for-28.
Every one of those 14 hits have been singles. But with the still-sizzling Andre Ethier, the possibly heating-up Matt Kemp and the slumping-but-dangerous Juan Uribe hitting behind them, singles, and walks, are all anyone is asking for.
The key moment in this game came after Carroll worked Pirates starter Kevin Correia for a two-out walk in the sixth inning of a scoreless game. Miles then stepped into the left side of the box, but not before taking a quick look at the Pirates' infield alignment, and specifically third baseman Brandon Wood.
"The chances of me bringing Jamey in from first were very small," Miles said. "You take a peak at third base. He was playing back, and I took a shot at it."
A shot at bunting for a hit, that is. Miles poked one into the best possible path he could have, a slow roller just inside the third-base line. Wood's only shot was to watch it and hope it rolled foul, which it never did.
Ethier followed with an RBI single. Kemp followed that with a three-run homer, capping a rally that had begun with two outs and nobody on. For good measure, Miles would later drive in the Dodgers' final two runs with a two-out, bases-loaded single off Chris Resop in the eighth.
The Dodgers (17-20) never expected -- nor did they want -- for Carroll and Miles to be in the lineup as much as they presently are being forced to. But as long as they are being forced to, it helps that for the moment, they are making the best of a less-than-ideal situation.
"I like me and him being up top," Miles said. "With what we have been doing, one of us is probably going to have a good game or at least a decent game. If one guy has a decent game in front of Dre and Kemp, I think that's a good formula. As long as we're swinging it well and doing what we're doing at the top of the lineup, I think we'll have success."
In theory, at least, the Dodgers figure to have more success when Carroll and Miles spend most of their time watching from the dugout. When Furcal and Blake return -- Blake, who is recovering from surgery for a staph infection in his left elbow, probably is looking at another two weeks at least -- the Dodgers will be at full strength offensively as long as nobody else goes down in the interim.
In a combined 25 major league seasons, Furcal and Blake have hit a total of 165 home runs. In a combined 19 big league seasons, Carroll and Miles have hit a total of 28. So on a team that is starved for power, neither Furcal nor Blake is in any danger of becoming a modern-day Wally Pipp. But these are the circumstances the Dodgers are presently faced with. As much as they can, the two little-utilitymen-that-could are making the wait a little more bearable.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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