Commentary

Classy Carroll asked to step aside, again

As the journeyman shortstop knows, sometimes taking one for the team means sitting

Updated: June 7, 2011, 2:59 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PHILADELPHIA -- There are about a million reasons why Jamey Carroll is a valuable guy to have on a big league baseball team.

One is that he is versatile, having logged at least one game at each of six positions during his decade in the majors. Another is that he plays the game the right way, setting a quiet example for younger players who are willing to pay attention and learn from what he does. Still another is that despite the fact that he has been typecast as a utility infielder, if you need him to be more than that because your team has suffered a key injury, he can do a pretty uncanny impression of an everyday major leaguer.

However, one of the most important reasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers right now is that Carroll is a team guy, a company man, never the sort to rock the boat.

[+] EnlargeJamey Carroll
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesJamey Carroll might not be as effective a defensive shortstop as the Twins pitching staff needs.

He didn't rock it Monday night, either, following a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies before a sellout crowd of 45,777 at Citizens Bank Park, a game in which Carroll went 3-for-4 to pretty much provide all the offense the Dodgers would manage against a dominating Cliff Lee, but he came close. He didn't verbalize his displeasure at having been told by manager Don Mattingly during a conversation earlier in the day that he was a utilityman once more, but his short answers and body language left little doubt how he felt.

Dee Gordon, the Dodgers' highly touted shortstop prospect who has long been viewed as the heir apparent to Rafael Furcal, was promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque before the game. As Mattingly told reporters shortly thereafter, Gordon isn't coming up to sit -- even though the left-handed hitter did sit against Lee, giving Carroll one more night in the lineup, leading off -- and that means someone else will be sitting.

That someone would be Carroll.

"He said Dee Gordon was going to play," Carroll said of his meeting with Mattingly. "It is what it is. You accept the situation for what it is."

Carroll addressed that subject at a time when he was hitting .308 with a .373 on-base percentage -- interesting numbers for a guy who is effectively being benched -- in 214 at-bats, putting him on pace to shatter his previous career high of 463 at-bats set with the Colorado Rockies in 2006. More specifically, he is hitting .327 (52-for-159) in all games the Dodgers have played this season with Furcal on the disabled list, including 8-for-13 in the three games since Furcal was shelved Saturday with an oblique strain.

But that pace is about to slow down. Considerably.

"We're not really moving him back to the bench," Mattingly insisted. "When he is every day, every day, every day, we know we're wearing him down. He will get his at-bats."

Carroll, who has been on the disabled list just once in his career, disputed that, saying that despite the unusual workload and his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, he is fine physically.

"I don't know," Carroll said. "If that's what he says. I think anybody wears down regardless of how much they're playing. It's a long season. But I feel like I have done a pretty good job of keeping myself ready, and I have always felt like that. I feel fine. Just because I am 37 doesn't mean I'm getting tired."

The Dodgers (28-33) didn't sign Carroll to get 500 plate appearances, something he has done just once in his career. They didn't sign him to be their most valuable player, a title that was unofficially bestowed upon him last year when he hit .291, much of it filling in for the oft-injured Furcal, in an otherwise lackluster season for the club.

The Dodgers signed Carroll -- two winters ago to a two-year, $3.85 million deal that already has grown to $4.05 million because of incentives, many of which he was never expected to meet, and that now is threatening to increase even more for the same reason -- to do exactly what he is now going to do again.

Gordon is the future. Fans have been clamoring for his call-up. Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti apparently had been mulling it for days. He is a lot of things the workmanlike Carroll isn't: flashy, exciting, electrifying. But Carroll has proved, perhaps this year more than ever, that he can be a dependable presence in the leadoff spot, even if the rest of the lineup is rather lifeless.

Gordon might well prove that, too. But he hasn't proved anything yet. He will bring greater range to shortstop than Carroll, but he will lack Carroll's steadiness on the ball he can get to. To some extent, the Dodgers are taking a gamble. But it's a relatively low-risk gamble, because no matter how it turns out, Carroll will be there, ready to bring that quiet, professional approach to whatever his role turns out to be.

Still, that doesn't mean he has to like it. Even if he won't tell you that he doesn't.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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