Dodgers call up Jerry Sands
LOS ANGELES -- Making a bold move in obvious reponse to the disappointing overall performance of their offense, the Los Angeles Dodgers purchased the contract of highly touted outfield prospect Jerry Sands from Triple-A Albuquerque before Monday night's game with the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium.
Sands was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, batting seventh and playing left field against the Braves. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored in the Dodgers' 4-2 win. Both Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly said Sands will be in the lineup most of the time, either in left field or at first base.
"We're going to play him," Mattingly said. "I don't think we can bring him up and not play him. That is the thing you have to do with young guys. He is going to get a shot."
To clear a spot on both the 25- and 40-man rosters, the Dodgers designated outfielder Xavier Paul for assignment.
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Sands held court with reporters for several minutes from his new locker in the corner of the Dodgers clubhouse -- the one that previously had belonged to Paul -- and appeared completely relaxed despite the suddenness of his callup.
"I'm nervous for every game, to be honest, but this is definitely a little different,'' he said. "You're in the big leagues now, and you want to be good. But on the other hand, you can't put too much pressure on yourself and start overplaying it or overdoing it. ... I think a consistent approach is my thing. If you keep trying to change this or change that, it becomes tough to change while the pitcher is changing, too.''
Sands, 23, was the Dodgers organization's minor league player of the year last season after hitting a combined .301 with 35 homers and 93 RBIs at low Class A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga. He was called up despite having spent no time at advanced Class A, half a season at Double-A and a week and a half at Triple-A, where he was batting .400 (16-for-40) with five homers, 17 RBIs and a .422 on-base percentage in 10 games for the Isotopes. He has just three strikeouts in 45 plate appearances.
Colletti, who said he made up his mind to promote Sands on Sunday morning, admitted the move was partially in reponse to the way the Dodgers offense has struggled this season. Although center fielder Matt Kemp, right fielder Andre Ethier and, to a lesser extent, infielders Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll all have performed well at the plate, the Dodgers entered Monday hitting a collective .250 for the season and a poor .182 (25-for-137) with runners in scoring position.
They also ranked last in the National League in runs scored, averaging 3.25 a game.
"Why not now?'' Colletti said of Sands' callup. "He continues to get better, and the quality of his at-bats continues to get better. Not only was he a run producer at Triple-A, but he had only struck out three times in 40-some at-bats. We are struggling offensively.
"We'll see. It was time to give him an opportunity. I told him I don't expect him to carry the club and that this may be a temporary assignment. But it's time to find out.''
The Dodgers originally drafted Sands in the 25th round in 2008 out of Catawba College in North Carolina. Following his breakout season last year, he further impressed Dodgers manager Don Mattingly with his performance for the Mattingly-managed Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.
Sands can play first base and both corner outfield spots and is considered a superior defensive outfielder. Mattingly said he will see some time at both spots, hinting that he could play first base against certain left-handed pitchers if Mattingly wants to rest the lefty-hitting James Loney.
Meanwhile, the move appears to have relegated Tony Gwynn Jr., who had started eight of the Dodgers' first 16 games in left field and entered Monday hitting .256, to a backup role.
"I don't know what it means,'' Gwynn said. "Nobody has really said anything, so I'll just sit back and play it by ear. ... I feel pretty positive there will be lines of communication sooner or later. It's just one of those things, especially when you have been feeling good and hitting the ball hard. I would like to continue to get some at-bats, but obviously, Jerry has to get some at-bats. We'll see what plays out, I guess."
Mattingly was diplomatic when asked about Gwynn, but he basically said Gwynn's primary role will be coming off the bench.
"I hate to say that because in this league, you're always in games because of double switches and things like that,'' Mattingly said. "Tony has been good, too, so I hate to say he is just a bench guy. I feel like there are going to be enough at-bats to keep everybody sharp. But for Tony, I would say we probably see him now the same way we saw him at the start of spring training, [sharing time] with [Jay Gibbons] and Marcus [Thames], with Tony being that late-innings guy and getting some starts out there.''
Mattingly also said that with Gwynn on the bench and Rafael Furcal still on the 15-day disabled list with a broken thumb, either Carroll or infielder Aaron Miles will hit in the leadoff spot. Miles, who started at second base, hit there on Monday night while Carroll was given the night off.
Paul, 26, has been in the organization since 2003 and was out of minor league options, which probably was the only reason he made the club out of spring training. He was hitting .273, but he had five strikeouts in 11 at-bats and wasn't getting much playing time. The Dodgers have 10 days to either trade Paul, release him or outright him to the minors, but he must clear irrevocable waivers before they can do any of those things, and he is talented enough that there is some risk that another club will claim him.
One source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Dodgers made numerous attempts in recent days to trade Paul and found no interest. But that interest could suddenly increase on the part of some other clubs if they have a chance to acquire Paul without have to give up a player to get him.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.