- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DENVER -- Among the many intricacies and nuances I have observed in my dozen years as a major league beat writer, one is that things are often done for the wrong reasons and decisions are often based on the wrong criteria.
Need to clear a roster spot for a veteran coming off the disabled list? Send out the guy with minor league options, even if he is tearing it up. Got a bargain-basement bench player outperforming the guy he is supposed to be backing up? Keep playing the guy with the big contract.
It is that last scenario that has been building for weeks for the Los Angeles Dodgers and that is now, finally, staring manager Don Mattingly squarely in the face -- even if Mattingly still didn't want to acknowledge it after Saturday night's game, a heartstopping squeaker of an 11-7 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
On an evening when veteran third baseman Casey Blake was out of the lineup because of a pinched nerve in his neck after already doing two stints in the disabled list this season, and second baseman Juan Uribe also was out because he was 2-for-17 against Rockies starter Jason Hammel, their replacements, Aaron Miles and Jamey Carroll respectively, continued to perform at a level unbecoming of bench players.
Each had a four hits, the two combining to go 8-for-9 with a double, a triple and two walks. Each drove in a pair of runs. Each had a key hit in a four-run, ninth-inning rally, without which the Dodgers would have suffered another of those late-inning collapses that have been all too commonplace this season.
So after watching the smallish Carroll and the smallish Miles save the Dodgers' bacon again, the question had to be asked after the game whether the Dodgers might be better off with those two playing every day instead of Uribe, who is hitting .213, and Blake, who is hitting a decent .267 but is two months shy of 38 and seemingly succumbing to age.
"Not necessarily," Mattingly said. "I don't want to downplay all that Jamey and Aaron have done for us, but for us to be a good offensive club over the course of the season, we need production from those other guys. Casey has been fine. Juan, coming off the DL [on Monday], has probably struggled more than Casey. That's why I talk about having to keep [Carroll and Miles] in the mix, and they are going to get their at-bats.
"In order for us to be able to score some runs consistently and be able to put up runs day in and day out -- and we talked about it at the first of the season -- we need Andre [Ethier] to hit, Matt [Kemp] has to hit, and we have to have other guys being able to contribute after that, guys like Juan and Casey and James [Loney]."
Those points are all valid, especially within the conventional wisdom of baseball, where, again, things are often done for curious reasons. But this was the first time since highly touted shortstop prospect Dee Gordon was called up on Monday that we saw an alignment of Carroll at second, Gordon at short and Miles at third.
I have to tell you, it looked pretty formidable.
Home-run power? Not a lick of it. But the zero home runs that Carroll and Miles have combined for this season are only six fewer than what Blake and Uribe have combined for. And when you look at combined extra-base hits, Uribe-Blake edges out Carroll-Miles by a mere 21-19. And when you throw the dynamic Gordon, who still contributed what probably was a game-saving defensive play in the eighth inning on an evening when he went 0 for 6, frankly, this is a more exciting, more interesting, more intriguing infield than one of Uribe, Blake and shortstop Rafael Furcal, who is on the disabled list for the second time.
In fairness to Blake, he is having a perfectly adequate season offensively, including a solid .358 on-base percentage that is actually far better than Miles' rather pedestrian .319. But given that the Dodgers have struggled all year to convert with runners in scoring position, it is important to note Miles, after coming through in both the seventh and ninth innings, is hitting .394 (13 for 33) in those situations.
Blake also came through, coming off the bench to deliver a two-run, pinch-hit double in the sixth, leaving him at .310 with runners in scoring position.
Here, though, is the bottom line: The Dodgers signed Uribe last winter to a three-year, $21 million contract that will pay him $5 million this year, and Blake is in the final season of a three-year, $17.5 million deal that is paying him $5.25 million in 2011. Carroll, who is hitting .314 overall, and Miles, who is batting .305, are making a combined $2.3 million.
So back to my original premise: Is this the reason Uribe and Blake are still viewed as the primary second and third basemen? The best guess is that it's certainly a factor. But I also tend to believe Mattingly, or, more accurately, I believe Mattingly believes it when he says it, that the Dodgers (30-36) need Uribe and Blake in the lineup every day and being productive if they want to have any chance of getting back into contention.
"I think I am playing quite a bit," Miles said. "Obviously, we have had a lot of injuries. I come ready to play. Of course I want to play every day, but we have a lot of good ballplayers on this team. Obviously, my skills profile good off the bench with me being a switch hitter and having shown I can hit off the bench.
"I know my role, and I'm happy in it."
The Dodgers do need Blake and Uribe in the lineup and producing. They are key players, which is why they were given those big contracts in the first place. But in the six games since Uribe came off the DL on Monday, he is 3-for-19 with seven strikeouts. In those same six games, Blake is 4-for-18. In that same stretch, Carroll is 7-for-13, Miles 8-for-11.
Right now, the Dodgers lineup is better with Carroll and Miles in it. And while admittedly I don't have an answer for how Uribe and Blake are supposed to heat up if they're riding the bench, right now, until they cool off, Carroll and Miles should be playing every day.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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