The Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, courtesy of a Buster Posey walk-off home run. But more importantly, they may have lost their starting shortstop for a significant period of time.
Hanley Ramirez was helped off the field after he unsuccessfully attempted to go from first to third on a single by catcher A.J. Ellis. AT&T Park is not the field of dreams for Ramirez—he fractured his thumb in his last game there in March in the finals of the World Baseball Classic.
Clutching his hamstring on the way into the dugout certainly wasn’t a good sign, nor was the pained expression on his face. Manager Don Mattingly wasn’t too thrilled about it either. In fact, in comments made to reporters after the game, it was clear he’s downright shaken by it.
"We can't keep losing guys at this rate," Mattingly said. "This is going to end. Right now it doesn't look very good. ... I'm not confident about anything at this moment."
One Twitter joker suggested that Mattingly practice empathy instead of sympathy for his injured roster mates:
*BREAKING NEWS* Don Mattingly shows solidarity by breaking his own pinkie in front of reporters with cameras. "So what" Don says afterwards— Adam (@smoleyrobinsom) May 4, 2013
Who can blame Mattingly for feeling the way he does right now? He’s had to use nine starting pitchers already and the season is barely 30 games old. He was forced to use an infield on Friday night that had Jerry Hairston at first, Nick Punto at second, Justin Sellers at short and the slumping Luis Cruz at third.
My confidence would be pretty shaken just seeing an infield that looked like that too.
Adrian Gonzalez is nursing a sore neck, Carl Crawford is battling through his own hamstring issues, Mark Ellis could go on the DL with a strained quad and slugger Matt Kemp is still nowhere near 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery.
Now, Ramirez, back for just his fourth game after returning from his thumb injury, could be lost for a substantial amount of time once again.
Mattingly likened Ramirez’s injury to that of Kemp’s hamstring strain last year. Kemp missed 51 games overall after two DL stints. Losing Ramirez for the same amount of time will absolutely force Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti to reassess the left side of their infield.
Their third baseman—Cruz—is hitting .098 and clearly looks lost at the plate. There could be a Triple-A stint in his near future. Backup Juan Uribe is hitting .200 with two homers in 17 games—he’s not a choice for a long-term gig. Sellers is hitting just .194, so he’s not a replacement that makes the Dodgers breathe easier right now, either.
Dee Gordon is currently toiling away at Triple-A Albuquerque, attempting to hone his skills and work on a more consistent hitting approach. He’s hitting .314 with 14 stolen bases, but the Dodgers had wanted to keep Gordon there—that may no longer be an option.
The Dodgers’ anemic offense produced 11 hits on Friday against the Giants, but only one of them went for extra-bases, and that was provided by starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. They stranded 13 runners, further adding to their offensive woes.
What Do the Dodgers Do at This Point?
That’s a question that has no clear answers. Their inability to produce in key situations is indeed troublesome. Kemp is hitting .267 with just one home run and 11 RBI. He’s hitting just .161 with runners in scoring position.
Andre Ethier is hitting just .250, including a .148 average with RISP. That’s two players with a combined value of $33.5 million hitting .155 in crucial situations.
Skip Schumaker, acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals during the offseason, is hitting just .119 with one RBI, while Cruz is hitting .098 with two RBI.
If general manager Ned Colletti is looking for answers from within, he’s simply not going to find them.
Gonzalez’s neck injury is likely short-term, as Mattingly did say that he was available to pinch-hit if needed on Friday. So there’s that at least.
Aside from Gordon, Colletti doesn’t have many infield options internally. His best hitters at the Triple-A level include Scott Van Slyke and Alex Castellanos, both of whom man the outfield. Very few options are available on the open market as well, not to mention the fact that teams are generally unwilling to part with any pieces this early in the season unless they’re completely blown away by an offer.
And then there’s Mattingly himself. He was called into question for not playing small-ball on Friday night. In the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless game, catcher A.J. Ellis drew a walk, followed by a single by Ethier, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Cruz promptly followed up with a double-play grounder, ending the threat.
Fans on Twitter immediately questioned Mattingly’s failure to consider an important option:
@don mattingly Can u please mix in a bunt with runners on 1st and 2nd and no out?This is the national league for gods sake.— Terry Saltzman (@vaterry) May 4, 2013
Another fan was just a bit more to the point about his feelings:
Don Mattingly couldn't manage a K-Mart.— Jon Piraino (@Jonpiraino) May 4, 2013
You can find any number of experts who point to the sacrifice bunt as a useless offensive tool. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs is one of them:
Bunting for a base hit, putting on a well-timed squeeze, beating an overshifted defense, having a pitcher move a runner into scoring position… there’s room for bunting in baseball. The frequency of sacrificing bunting that is prevalent now, though, is simply incorrect strategy, and the sooner it is removed from the sport, the better off Major League teams will be.
Cameron and others may be right about that, but considering the Dodgers’ current state of affairs, couldn’t it at least have been considered? Especially with the struggling Cruz coming up?
Coming up with different ways to score—especially on the road in a pitcher-friendly park—has to be considered. Stranding 13 runners and the complete inability to produce in key situations warrants a change of thinking.
Mattingly isn’t helping his own cause by failing to consider these options with his team struggling mightily at the plate. Injuries aside, he needs to adjust his way of thinking when run-scoring opportunities are presented.
Answers aren’t going to come for the Dodgers via the trade market at this point. They’re going to have to ride out the injuries and hope that key offensive contributors like Kemp and Ethier can break out of their funks are start doing what they’re paid very handsomely to do: produce.
There are no quick fixes at this point in the season. Colletti isn’t in a position that gives him an advantage. Even if he were to reach out to other teams to find a fix, opposing general managers have the upper hand in knowing that the Dodgers are desperate for help. They will be looking for a return package in any deal that would be much more advantageous for them then it would be for Los Angeles.
If Colletti wants to deal, it will cost him dearly. And the Dodgers have already paid dearly for the roster currently assembled.
Fixing the offense is not going to happen overnight. Kemp isn’t suddenly going to have a shoulder that’s 100 percent healthy. There’s no magical cure that can put Ramirez back on the field any quicker.
The onus is on the roster to collectively pick itself up, dust itself off and start delivering. The onus in on Mattingly to be more creative with run-scoring opportunities. The onus is on the bullpen to keep the team in the game.
Ramirez will return at some point. Kemp will be completely healthy at some point as well. Players like Zack Greinke, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly and others will return as well. It’s up to Mattingly and the roster to stay afloat and ride out the storm.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.