The Los Angeles Dodgers remain the winningest team in the Major Leagues, at 60-34. Their offense has re-awakened as of late (19 runs in two games versus the Reds), and the team's ERA remains among the majors’ best.
However, there are reasons for both concern and optimism. It would appear that almost every cloud on the horizon has a silver lining.
First and foremost to Dodger fans would be the injury status of Manny Ramirez.
Besides a brief hiccup in the four games bracketing the All-Star break, ManRam’s return to the Dodger lineup has thoroughly invigorated L.A.'s bats. Ramirez has a well-documented ripple effect on the entire batting order.
However, Manny left the game in the bottom of the third on Tuesday after a 95 mph offering from Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey crashed into the side of his left hand.
Ramirez, in obvious agony, was transported to the hospital for precautionary X-rays.
This is where the silver lining of that particularly ugly cloud for Dodger fans makes itself apparent. Preliminary reports indicate that the X-rays were negative, meaning that there are no broken bones. There is likely to be extensive soft tissue damage, but this can be corrected with rest and fairly straightforward treatment.
Ramirez hit his 537th career home run on Monday night against the Reds.
The Dodgers would miss his .343 average, 10 home runs, and 33 RBI (in just 42 games) if he were to miss significant time. It does not appear that will be the case. He is listed as day-to-day.
Next up is Doug Mientkiewicz, the reserve corner infielder.
"Douggie," as he is commonly called, is one of the slickest-fielding first basemen of the last decade or so. His glove has been his calling card, first at Minnesota (1998-2004), then during stops at Boston (’04), both New York clubs (Mets in ’05, Yanks in ’07), Kansas City (’06), and Pittsburgh (’08).
After his release by the Pirates, Mientkiewicz signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers in February of 2009, and accepted an invitation to spring training to compete for a reserve role on the team.
Mientkiewicz, 35, did indeed win a spot on the team, hitting .300 with two homers and 11 RBI. Manager Joe Torre has long admired the scrappy player; the fact that Douggie is an experienced leftie who hits pitchers from either wing helped, as well.
Blake DeWitt, the young infielder who began spring as the likely reserve corner infielder, was sent back down on the farm in order to play everyday.
Mientkiewicz was performing his duties as a left-handed bat off the bench and late-inning defensive replacement with aplomb when his hustling nature visited disaster upon the vet.
He delivered a two-run, pinch-hit double in a 7-2 victory over the division rival San Francisco Giants on April 16. While sliding into second base, he jammed his right shoulder into the bag, causing a complete dislocation. Surgery was successful.
He was placed on the 60-day disabled list, retroactive to April 16, and was not expected back until September.
However, Douggie and Dodger trainer Stan Conte had other plans; they engaged in an aggressive rehab effort in order to get the veteran back on the field far sooner.
"I respected their time period but I didn’t believe them," Doug said in late June. "I’m not saying I’m the Bionic Man, but with (trainer) Stan (Conte) cutting every corner he could to take chances when we could, we’ve been aggressively smart with this thing."
"Knock on wood, we haven’t had any setbacks.”
As of July 22, Mientkiewicz reports that he is ready for a minor league rehab assignment. He could be activated by the big club as early as the first or second week in August. He would be a perfect choice as DH in interleague or perhaps World Series play.
“Our concern is not his offense—we could put him in as designated hitter or pinch-hitter—but we need more than that,” Torre said recently. “He’s on this team. To me, he’s valuable to us. That’s why he made the club in the spring. He gives us flexibility.”
What about the suddenly threadbare Dodger relief corps, suffering without an effective Hong-Chih Kuo all season, and losing both last season’s standout Cory Wade and early-season surprise Ronald Belisario in July?
Wade has been a huge disappointment this season. When he was placed on the DL for the second time this year—this time for 15 days, effective July 17—he had labored mightily. His ERA in 27 appearances was 5.53, with an unsightly 1.37 WHIP and 2-3 record.
At age 33, his disposition is uncertain once he comes off the disabled list.
Kuo, who turns 28 on Thursday, July 23, is looking solid in minor league rehab work at Single-A Inland Empire. He was sent down just before the All-Star break, and his return is beginning to appear imminent.
He was set to pitch again last night (Tuesday), which would be his second consecutive day of work for the second time in as many weeks.
“If he throws well, he’ll get two days off and pitch again Friday, then we’ll see," Torre commented Tuesday afternoon. “He’ll probably go on the next (road) trip.”
The Bums’ next road trip begins on Monday, July 27, in St. Louis.
Kuo’s status is paramount to the Dodger pitching staff, because the bullpen needs both a lefty and a set-up man. Kuo is slated to fill one of those slots...
While Belisario is hoped to fill the other.
Belisario, like Kuo, has a long history of elbow problems; both have undergone Tommy John ligament replacement surgery: Kuo has had two, Ronald had his in 2005.
Belisario gave the team a tremendous scare when, after being pulled from a recent, ineffective outing, he reported that “(the elbow) almost felt the way it did when I had to have Tommy John surgery.”
The 26-year-old righthander is in his first year as a Dodger, having been signed as a Minor League free agent over the winter. Discovered by scout Ron Rizzi, he was an absolute revelation as he dominated hitters in the Venezuelan winter league.
He bounced around the minors for years in the Marlins’ organization, never pitching higher than Double-A.
Belisario was picked up by the Pittsburgh organization, and toiled the past two seasons for them after missing 2005 and 2006 recovering from the Tommy John surgery.
He caught the Dodgers’ attention with his mid-90s fastball that has tremendous late movement.
He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 6. The club is obviously going to take it easy with their fortuitous savior.
He had already amassed 48.1 innings in 43 appearances—dangerously busy for a man who has had ligament-replacement surgery—giving up 37 hits and only two home runs, with 20 walks to 46 strikeouts.
The Dodgers hope he will be ready to go after getting about a month’s rest.
If no one from the trio of Kuo, Belisario, or Wade steps up to stabilize the Dodger ‘pen, the team will be forced to hit the trade market. Their most likely target is the Orioles’ George Sherrill, a lefty closer who could be had if the price is right.
We will monitor the bullpen situation closely, and report back to you next week.
All quotes courtesy of mlb.com and usatoday.com
Leroy Watson, Jr. is a Los Angeles Dodger Featured columnist for Bleacher Report
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